Monday, June 2, 2008

The one who "got" to me

They say that in your career you'll have at least one patient who "gets" to you. One who you become quite close to and that you never forget. That happened to me early in my career. He was this young Chinese man in his early 30's. He had chronic lymphacytic leukemia (CLL).

In the beginning looking at him you'd never even know he was sick. He came into the hospital almost monthly back when I worked on the med/surg/oncology floor. Somehow I seemed to always be assigned to him so we built quite the rapport. His wife worked an odd shift and got off around 1am and would come to see him each night after she got off so I got to know her pretty well too. What a sweet story they had....

He came to the US from China in his 20's. She was still in China when they "met" and they courted over the phone and were soon engaged. The plan was for her to move to the US and for them to be married. The day he found out about his CLL he called her and tried to break things off. She outright refused even when he told her he would probably die from this.

The doctors here told him that he had a good chance of going into remission if he would undergo a bone marrow transplant. None of the few family members he had in the US matched and the ones in China couldn't be tested. He was unwilling to take an unrelated donor specimen. The chemo unfortunately wasn't enough.

Over the months as I took care of him multiple times I watched him slowly decline. He always asked if I was working and wanted to sit and chat if I had time. I remember one night he told me that he was going to have an ultrasound in the morning as his abdomen had gotten quite hard and swollen. Trying to still have a sense of humor despite his pain and suffering he told me that "they are going to take a look at the baby in there!" As usual he had me in stitches.

One night as his disease process progressed and I didn't have him another nurse called me to his room to help her and it sounded serious. There he was in the bed having a grand mal seizure. I had such a hard time helping as it was almost like I was seeing a family member at that point. For a minute I didn't know what to do. Then the nurse in me kicked in and I was able to help my colleague with stabilizing him. Unfortunately his wife was there to witness the whole thing.

I dreaded going into work as his death became more imminent. I wasn't sure I could handle being there when he died. They talked and talked about not becoming too close to patients in nursing school for just this reason and here I was in my first year as a nurse and it was already happening. I wasn't sure I was cut out for this. I had a long talk with some of my coworkers about it all and they reassured me that you will always have at least one patient in your career that this happens with. As long as it isn't all of them then it's OK. I guess I just got mine out of the way early. This man died on the day shift and as selfish as it is I was happy that it happened then. I was completely devastated and I really don't think I could have handled being there for it. Since then I have become close with other patients but never like this.


Sader said...

Doesn't everyone say not on my shift about the immenent deaths? Maybe it's a med/surg thing, but then again my floor has practically become a hosptice lately and we are mostly glad when it's someone else's patient. It's hard to deal with the grieving families whether you liked the patient or not...

Tracey said...

Actually sader I usually don't mind dying patients. Not that I enjoy death but I tend to do well with the grieving families for some odd reason.

In this instance it was this particular patient's death I didn't think I could witness.

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