[Forgive me if this entry isn't quite as eloquent as the ones you have come to expect from me, dear readers. I am not really sure how to express some of these things and they might come out jumbled, scattered, and sounding like they were written by a crazy person.]
I haven't been feeling well, my darlings, for the better part of two weeks now. It started out as a sore throat that morphed into an upper respiratory infection accompanied by a fever. And I have had a lingering productive cough, sinus congestion (alternating with a runny rose), as well as a general feeling of crappiness and lethargy. Basically, I don't have the energy for anything really and my mind has been quite foggy. And I really don't belong on a med-surg unit right now.
Let me proceed this story by saying, about a week ago during my mid-clinical evaluation, my instructor asked me what skills I have not had many opportunities to perform yet. I was honest with her and said that over the past two years, I have yet to deal with a PEG tube, insert an NG tube, or preform postmortem care. I told her that I found death disturbing [as most people do] and the thought of caring for a dead body left me extremely uncomfortable but I wanted to experience it while I was a student and was in a somewhat controlled environment with someone there with me.
So despite feeling like death warmed-up [bad choice of words for the content of this entry] this morning, I woke up at 4:30am (after falling asleep at 3:30am) to start my third to last day of clinical for my nursing degree.
I got to the clinical site at 0645 and walked into the surgery waiting area where we usually meet with our instructor. She could tell I was sick. I was pale [well...paler than usual] and I was coughing but whatever...the show must go on. The instructor asked me what unit I would like to go to and I said anything but med-surg. I actually wanted to go to the burn unit but the census was too low for students to be there...so I ended up in the ER with one of my male classmates.
Usually in the mornings, the ER is really slow. Today was no exception. There was only a few patients on the unit...a psych patient under a PEC [physician emergency certificate]...as well as a young woman admitted for severe cramps. I assisted B [along with the ER tech] with an in&out catheter because he had never done one on a female before but after that there really wasn't much to do.
B and I were sitting with the ER tech when a nurse walked up to us and asked if we would like to help "bag" a patient. Thinking she meant "bag" like during a code, I said that of course I would help. We walked into the critical room in the ER as I was thinking, "It is awful quiet for a code to be going on right now."
I stepped into the room were there was a patient lying on the table with her mouth hanging open. She wasn't moving and she was very pale. I think it took me a full 30 seconds to process the fact that the woman was deceased and even then I didn't fully "get it" until the nurse placed a toe tag on the patient and opened the body bag.
I tried not to look at her face.
We rolled her over and moved the body bag underneath her. Just then, the patient let out a snore.
The woman....who was dead.....snored. It was all I could do not to leave the room right then.
We finish placing her in the bag and zipped it up.
At this point, something happened and she either exhaled or twitched because the body bag moved. WTF.
The nurse made a joke about how there might be some spirits still in the room because she was so "active" after her death [referring to the snore and the twitch]. B and I exchanged a look that in no uncertainty terms said "I would really like to get the fuck out of this room right now" as the tech laughed at the nurse and told her to stop trying to scare the students.
At this point, we covered the bag with a sheet and wheeled the stretcher to the morgue where we placed the woman's body on a metal table to be left in the freezer. The nurse started to wipe the ER stretcher with a sanitizing wipe and I couldn't help but wonder how many people have taken their last breath on that bed.
Back in the ER, B and I both attempted to start an IV on a patient [which neither of us could get because of her tiny, rolling veins...also, the fact that we were both still shaking a little bit might have had something to do with it]. The instructor said to leave it to the nurse because she wanted to take us to the cath lab to see an angiogram performed.
Although it was very interesting to watch, during the procedure, I began to feel even worse than I did earlier. I excused myself when I saw that it was over as a tech wheeled the patient out in order to find a restroom.
I think combined with the fact that I was already sick, the morning's events caught up with me. In a cold sweat, I leaned against the wall for support as my vision started to blur and the room started to spin. After a few moments, the dizziness subsided as a violent wave of nausea hit me. At this point, I said hello again to the yogurt I had for breakfast.
Exiting the rest room, B was waiting for me. He looked really concerned when he saw me and ever the gentleman, he said "Wow. You look like hell." I countered with,"Thank you, darling. Unfortunately, we can't all be movie star material like you." The instructor showed up shortly afterwards and noticed that I didn't look as perky as usual. She suggested that I go to the medical library and read until I felt well enough to get home.
Once home, I promptly stripped off my scrubs and crawled under the covers. My nap was not in the least bit restful. Nightmares of corpses and bloated, decaying bodies in every ER bay plagued my mind and I woke up in tears.
I am not sure what upset me more, the actual experience or the nightmares, but I texted my favorite lesbian [she's a classmate, a paramedic, and one of the strongest women I know]. I can always rely on her for a little wisdom or tough love whenever I need it. Here is how our conversation went-
Estelle: So how long did it take you to get used to dealing with dead bodies when you first started as a paramedic? And I am not even talking about the dismembered ones.
A: Never had a problem with it. No one I know in the medical field ever had a problem or they probably wouldn't have gotten into it in the first place. It bothered you that much?
Estelle: Yeah. It bothered me.
A: Okay. Then I am worried about you. Are you gonna make it? What will you do if it's actually your patient and they code in front of you? That's a scary thought.
Estelle: I don't know. I feel like [name of our notorious classmate who washed out in our third semester after a series of potentially fatal mistakes she made during clinical that could have cost anyone of her patients their life] right now. I mean, the lady had been dead for two hours. All we did was put her in a body bag. That was it. I shouldn't be this freaked out about it.
A: No. No. No. She was a dumbass. Not the same thing at all. You're just a tender heart.
Estelle: Well, I feel like a total dumbass right now.
A: And no, you shouldn't be upset. She was old. Not smelly or decomposing or ripped apart in a trauma. Death is a part of life.
Estelle: I know.
A: Just find a way to accept it. Tell yourself it is what it is and everyone dies. And try to move on. Do the best you can.
Estelle: How the fuck could I have made it this far only to realize now that I don't have what it takes to do this?
A: You can do it. You just need to learn to displace the hard crap. Fortunately, the death rate isn't that high in L&D.
About 10 minutes later, my phone starts to ring. It was A's girlfriend. Being that I was sobbing uncontrollably at this point, wondering if I would indeed be able to do this, I sent the call to voicemail. A few moments later, she texts me that if I needed to talk, she was around and that A told her what happened and that she wanted to take me out for a drink. I told her I appreciated the offer but that I wasn't very good company at the moment. She told me that is what friends are for and to not hesitate to call if I needed anything.
After a few hours of crying and exchanging messages with a bunch of other nursing students on Twitter (by the way, ya'll really should get Twitter accounts...it is awesome. Follow me: @EstelleDarling), I texted A that I would be okay. She responded like a protective big sister with "You better be."
And I will be okay, readers. I needed this. For the past two years, I think I have been functioning under the delusion that I would never have to deal with death in the hospital. I won't lie. This was a really shitty experience [although, I am sure that some of you are thinking to yourselves "Um...get a grip, Estelle. It wasn't even that big of a deal"] but I am glad it happened.