Monday, January 2, 2017
Nurse, Can You Tell My Story?
I write about Nursing because I am proud of the difference we make in our patients' lives. This is a profession that is definitely and infinitesimally life-affirming and emotionally rewarding. Then on Thanksgiving day in 2015, I received an email from a patient. His story is unforgettable and inspiring. I will call him Mike to protect his privacy.
Hi Ms. Cerrudo,
On this Thanksgiving, I write to simply say "thank you'. I randomly come across your blog. I'm not in the medical field, but know it well - as a patient. A few years ago I was taken into surgery for an emergent surgery. The doctors discovered several masses. Unfortunately, the hepatic artery was nicked during the case and I began bleeding profusely- I subsequently coded twice during the case and it was a very skilled RN that helped perform open cardiac massage. After several weeks of intense recovery, I made it home.
I now face a second major surgery in a month to attempt to repair a thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm that is pressuring both the spinal cord and diaphragm. Additionally, they will attempt to remove some metastatic lesions on the upper and lower GI tract. They have estimated a 16-hour case with a 70% intraop mortality rate.
I write to you to thank you for sharing all of your stories to exemplify how important nurses are in the most dire of situations. I was able to obtain authorization for an observer during my upcoming surgery and was wondering if you might want to observe - I think so much good could come out of you sharing my story and to re-emphasize that medicine is a balance of technical skill, compassion and humanity. I could think of nobody better to tell that story.
My heart goes out to you. Despite all that you have gone through, you still managed to recognize the contribution of nurses to your care. I have never received a request from a patient for me to share their story. It will be an honor and a privilege for me to assist you in any way I can.
Let me know how I can help. When is your surgery? I will be leaving for a 3-week vacation in January. I wish I can see you before then. I would really like to meet you.
Thank you for getting back to me. Would you be open talking to me very soon? I would love to tell you of the many ways that the nurses made a difference in my care. How they comforted me when I was anxious; when I just needed someone to talk to. Can I send you my case study?
I read your case study. Words fail me because I cannot imagine how difficult it is for you and your family. If you would like to discuss this with me, I would be available this Saturday before the holiday rush. In mid-January, I will be out of the country on vacation. I do want to speak to you by phone or in person, if you're up to it. Your story needs to be told.
(In truth, I was so touched by Mike's trust in sharing his case study. He's not even thirty yet, and he has gone through a lot. The doctors removed some lesions on his gastrointestinal tract. The names of the OR staff were redacted in the operative report. The case details chronicled the whole session. The assisting surgeon prayed for spiritual guidance for the OR staff. She also prayed for the patient- for his comfort and peace of mind so that he will feel the “hedge of angels surrounding" him. She also prayed that the lessons from this case study will benefit others in the future.
Except for a month’s stint in the operating room as a nursing student, I have not known much about how much stressful it is to work in the OR setting; how tenuous a life is; how in one instant, patient can bleed out from a ruptured artery. The attending surgeon stepped out twice to inform Mike's parents of complications during surgery. Each single time, the attending came back with the family’s decision for a full code. The OR surgeons, physician assistants, nurses, and scrub techs all rooted for Mike, and he survived. No neurological complication from the two episodes of cardiac arrest- one from ventricular fibrillation and one from an asystolic rhythm.
Now, he wants me to write about how the nurses cared for him. I should write about how he inspired me. I cried after reading Mike's OR report. I hoped and prayed that his upcoming surgery will be a success. With all that he went through, he still wanted to honor the nurses. I may not know him personally, but I wanted to reach out and hug him.)
Was there anything in-particular that resonated with you about my case? Have you ever had to perform compressions on the table during a non-emergent case? Both external and internal?
Several things that resonated with me about your case:
1. Your resilience. Your strength comes through loud and clear. The operative report was so graphic and so detailed, especially in the resuscitation efforts. Everything was so surreal.
2. Your spirituality. I did not even know that prayers are held right there in the OR.
I have been an ER nurse for about 25 years. I spent the last 12 years as an educator. I have done my fair share of external cardiac compressions. When I was still doing trauma, I had assisted in cardiac resuscitation using the internal defibrillation paddles, but I have not done an internal cardiac massage. The closest I have ever come to seeing this was when the trauma surgeons opened up an eight-year old boy who was hit by a baseball in his chest. To this day, I still get goosebumps when I remember the day the boy came back to the ED several weeks later, alive and well. I have never been so happy seeing the healed scar on his chest.
(In fact, I wanted to tell Mike how grateful I am that we were able to talk over the phone. I felt emotional hearing his voice, especially since I realize that his impending surgery is complicated. He expressed optimism, but I sensed that he was resigned to the fact that he might not make it this time. With the 70% intraop mortality rate, the odds are against him.
When I asked him why did he want me to specifically thank the nurses, he said, "I thanked the doctors enough, but the nurses don't get enough credit".
He was not able to expound on his experience with the nurses. He was getting tired, so I suggested that we can just make another appointment to talk again. We did not have a chance to speak again since he was busy with more tests).
In a few days’ time, you will undergo surgery again. I am sorry that I would not be able to be there for you because I am boarding the plane to see my family. I will pray for you. Would you email me back when you have recovered? Be strong.
Mike, I pray that the operation was a success. Please email me back.
(I called him from overseas. The phone just rang and rang. I prayed that he was just busy recovering).
This is Jocelyn. It has been awhile since we corresponded. I am not sure what happened since then. Can you please e-mail me back?
Mike, are you there? I tried to call your phone, but it was not in service. I also tried to google your name for any news.
Mike, it has been a year since you e-mailed me. I am afraid that it is not good news since I haven't heard from you. I do not want to intrude on your family's privacy so although I know your real name, I couldn't reach out to your family. Are they even aware that you want your story shared with the world? I do not know you personally, but I am convinced that for whatever little time you have on earth (I feared the worst), you have enriched the lives of those around you.
I am humbled that you chose me to tell your story. You wanted to honor the nurses. Instead, I honor you.
Mike’s requested scripture readings before the surgery:
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.—Psalm 147:3
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.—Isaiah 41:10
For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord, because they have called you an outcast: 'It is Zion, for whom no one cares- Jeremiah 30:17