I’m a nurse, but this is in no way a tribute to what I do everyday. Instead, it is a tribute to what my fellow nurses do everyday.
It has been said that ‘nurses are the worst patients’. We are because we know too much. We know every possible scenario of what could go wrong, no matter how small the percentage of chance. So, yes, I guess it is true that we probably do make the worst patients (right behind doctors).
Personally, I have had several surgeries. I am always slightly envious of my patients that have never had a previous surgery until they are in their 80’s (sad that I would be envious of anyone having to have surgery, right?). I will have to say that with most of my surgeries, I never gave it a second thought prior to a procedure. I was always sure that even though things can go wrong, most often they don’t go wrong and that I am always in good hands (too much paper work if it doesn’t….sorry, nurse joke there!).
However, my last couple surgeries were a bit more challenging for me, actually after it was done. I found that I would suffer from anxiety for about 24-48 hours, then it would pass and all was well.
Leading up to my last surgery, I expected the same process. I contacted my PCP (primary care provider) who was wonderful and supplied me with a few anti-anxiety pills for after the procedure. I felt that I had everything taken care of as I headed into the hospital the day of my procedure, calm and confident.
I was alone, as I always am (I prefer this). I changed into the hospital gown, locked up my personal belongings and settled in for the anticipated round of questions. It was a busy time of day (always is in the morning) and the nurses bustled around me. Finally, a lovely nurse came into start my pre-op questions to get me started on my way. I answered each question, confident that overall, I am a ‘boring’ patient (something you want to be when at the hospital). Towards the end of the questions, I explained that I do fine before the surgery, but that after my last couple of surgeries, I had a little anxiety but I had it covered with medication that I could start once done, if needed.
As my nurse was finishing up my questions, I felt myself starting to get warm. I felt a familiar, yet unfamiliar feeling roll over me like a wave, I was starting to panic. I thought, “oh my gosh, you have got to be kidding”. I had never struggled pre-surgery before. As I sat on the bed I struggled to fight it back but it was overwhelming. My nurse looked at me and asked if I was okay. “Yes”, I assured her….but inside I was a frantic mess. She pretended to type but I knew she was watching me. I obviously must not have looked okay. Finally, I admitted that I was freaking out. I told her that I felt like I had to flee the room. I told her that I had to get up and walk. She encouraged me to do just that. Thankfully, my roommate had already left for her procedure and her husband had gone to eat, as I didn’t want anyone else witnessing this moment of weakness! We were alone in the room. I kept apologizing to the nurse, she continually reassured me that it was okay, and that I was going to be okay. She assured me that the surgeon was wonderful!
I couldn’t describe to her my feelings. I knew all of that. I was fine, I was going to be fine and I knew the surgeon from working with her previously, I knew she was fabulous. I still couldn’t push down the panic.
I paced back and forth.
She stood close by. I tried to joke through my panic, “it’s okay to roll your eyes, even if it’s on the inside, I know this is so dumb!”, I tell her. She reassured me that she wasn’t judging me. She continued to reassure me, she allowed me to pace the room and she was simply, well…..just there.
As I was pacing I couldn’t help but think of my friend and co-worker, Doug (aka Heather (her real name), and I couldn’t help but think of this Bob Newhart episode, Stop It! If she were her she would say “stop it” in her funny way and all would be fine! I tried to ‘stop it’ but I just couldn’t get a handle on it!
After a few minutes (though it seemed forever) the episode finally passed, and I was okay again.
I apologized profusely to my nurse. She reassured me each time that it was okay.
She asked me if I felt that I needed any medication prior, but once the initial feeling of panic subsided, I was once again fine. I denied the need for medication. She encouraged me to do something that would distract me and calm me. She asked if I liked to read or watch movies? I said a movie would be great, maybe Avengers or Dr Strange, I said. She laughed, as I am sure they probably didn’t seem a calming choice. She stayed while I surfed for my movie (I am sure she didn’t have time for this, but she stayed none the less), chatting with me idly. Once she was sure I was fine, she said she had to get to her next patient but that she would stop back and check on me soon.
As she was leaving, she turned and said that it was okay and that I shouldn’t be hard on myself about my anxiety attack. She said that giving up control (something many nurses have a hard time doing) in these type of situations is always anxiety inducing. She smiled and walked out the door.
A few months later, I have not forgotten this simple act of kindness.
That day she could’ve left to get to her next patient. She could’ve been far less understanding and sympathetic. She could’ve been judgmental.
Instead, she was exactly what I needed. She was a symbol of strength, as she allowed me a moment of weakness.