31: Not ICU!

31: Not ICU!

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Not ICU!

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.

~Galileo Galilei

“When did the chest pains start?” the nurse asked. The emergency room buzzed with doctors and nurses scurrying as they hooked me up to various monitors. Part of me felt terrified and the other part too shocked to take it all in.

“We live thirty minutes away,” I mindlessly answered, wondering why it mattered. “We left minutes after the pains started.”

That afternoon I had felt exhausted, unlike any kind of tired I’d ever experienced. Throughout the day I’d noticed several peculiar symptoms but didn’t give them a second thought. I went to bed around midnight. An hour later I awoke, visited the bathroom and went back to bed. According to the clock I’d only slept a few minutes before being jolted from a dead sleep. It felt like cattle were stampeding through my chest. I’d had palpitations before, but nothing like this. I gently nudged my husband awake and told him. “Don’t worry,” I said, “whatever is going on will hopefully calm down soon.”

When I tried to check my heart rate I couldn’t find a pulse; my heart raced out of control. I agreed to head for the hospital. My husband grabbed our coats. I kissed our sons goodbye. In the wee hours of the morning, we drove over the state border and down the mountain to our hospital in Woodstock, Virginia.

“Hopefully the medication will convert your heart rhythm and stop the chest pains,” the doctor informed us. I threw my worried husband a smile. Once my heart rate had returned to normal, I figured they’d let me go home. But before the doctor left the room he explained I’d be staying in the ICU.

“Why the ICU? Can’t she stay in a regular room?” my husband asked the nurse.

“Nope,” she answered. “Everyone on this medication gets monitored in the ICU.”

When we’d lived out west, I had spent time in what we had referred to as the hospital’s hell room — the ICU. The atmosphere reeked of despair; the nurses were cold and indifferent. During my stay, a well-meaning nurse told us that working in the ICU required a “special” kind of person; someone who could remain aloof. She’d claimed it was the only way ICU nurses maintained their sanity. If that was true, we prayed we’d never again find ourselves in another ICU. And yet here we were.

As they wheeled me out of the emergency room I felt sick. “Not ICU,” I moaned. “I wish I could go home,” I whispered to my husband. “I don’t want to spend time surrounded by sickness, death, and ice-cold nurses.”

“I wish you could too.” He squeezed my hand.

As we approached the ICU, every person we met greeted us with a kind smile or a “hello.” I couldn’t believe it. When we reached my room, they took great care in getting me comfortably situated. A warmhearted, concerned group of nurses and aides huddled over me. Pure relief washed over my husband’s face. He needed to get to work and had hated leaving me. Now he knew I’d be well cared for.

“Call as often as you want,” the nurses encouraged him, putting his mind at ease.

Throughout the day these cheerful nurses and aides went about their tasks conversing merrily with each other. There was no doom or gloom. Their soft laughter and light banter filled the atmosphere with a warm, comforting vibe. When they checked on me, they often lingered and chatted. I felt treated like a queen; their attention to me was over the top. When the day drew to a close, I hated to see them go. I felt as if angels, not nurses, had been hovering over me. Instead of the hospital hell room, I’d landed in hospital heaven.

Two nurses checked on me before they left for the day. “Do you have to leave?” I inquired, immediately feeling foolish for asking such a question.

“Get some rest,” one of them answered as she took my hand. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

Through the slit in my drapes, I watched as daylight disappeared. Once visiting hours ended, I felt alone and anxious as I tried to comprehend all that had happened that day. Would life ever be the same? Alone in my room, I prepared myself for the night shift, assuming my day angels were one-of-a kind.

That night, unable to sleep, the most wonderful nurse came into my room. As we talked, I felt as if I’d known her all my life. As I shared my concerns with her, she took the time to listen instead of brushing my fears aside. When the soft pinkish morning glow peeked through my curtains, I said farewell to my night-shift angels.

On the morning they released me, my angels huddled over me like protective mother hens. When my husband picked me up, I had tears in my eyes. Who would ever have thought I’d be teary-eyed at leaving the ICU? I couldn’t help myself. I had expected the worst and received the best. I hugged every one of these special souls who had watched over me.

I saw firsthand that working in the ICU does require a special kind of person.

~Jill Burns

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