I work in the complex, convoluted, and often challenging American health care system. I strive to provide the best care to my patients. It is troubling to me when one of my loved ones enter this system, and are not met with those same standards. Our health care system is broken. Health care providers are expected to do more, with less, in the fastest amount of time possible. This hasty, fast-food approach to American health care is unhealthy, and unsustainable. We hear the nations cry of ‘health care for all’, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to good health care for all. It’s no wonder medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America today (Makary, and Daniel, 2016).
The piece I wrote below is my interpretation of the experience of a loved one struggling in this broken system.
I woke up today in pain.
I reached out to you,
You didn’t see.
I continued to have pain.
I reached out to you,
You didn’t hear.
I was scared by this pain.
I reached out to you,
You didn’t speak.
I still have pain!
I reached out to someone else.
They saw me, they heard me, they spoke to me.
I was broken.
I reached out to you again to let you know,
Your apathy was palpable.
Perhaps it is not me that is broken…
Makary, M.A., Daniel, M. (2016). Medical error-the third leading cause of death in the US. BMJ 353:i2139
So the other day I posted a link to Tara Lazar’s website about a very short story challenge sponsored by Logitech on my other blog. The idea was to write a short story on twitter in 8 lines or less. I wasn’t exactly sure how to write a story that short and have it make sense. After a bit of research, I realized that this type of writing is a bit of an art form. On twitter, there are so many entries where people manage to write their stories in only one line, that would be 140 characters or less for those of you unfamiliar to twitter like myself.
Now, considering I didn’t have a twitter account, and knew nothing about it, not only did I have to figure out how to write a story in eight lines or less, I also had to figure out how to set up a twitter account. To my surprise it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, and after a bit of reading and a great introductory video by David A. Cox I was on my way. I created my twitter account using my nightingale tales blog name, and created my twitter handle (that’s lingo for my @I.D.), and successfully entered the Logitech challenge. I even managed to write my story in 6 lines; not quite the 140 character story, but I now have something to strive for. It’s a little addicting trying to complete a story in 140 characters.
Here is my entry. Let me know what you think.
“Is she dead Nurse?”
I look up at them with disgust, their vulturous stares bearing down on me.
My eyelids lower, nodding once.
The room stinks of their intemperate breath as they exhale in unison.
The Volt cling their talons deep into the edge of their Chippendale perches, lying in wait as the executor readies himself beside the lukewarm carcass.
A prescient silence spreads smoothly over the committee, followed by bilious projectiles of vehement objections.
I retreat for the exit, my back aligned with the door.
I will never have to work again.
Black water flows,
Circling in doomed
Awaiting the inevitable,
An unknown stream of unconsciousness.
River running fast but leading nowhere,
Black water flows carrying the tail ends
Air above swirls through forced motion
Decisions being made
Without action to follow.
Life and death swirl in dark water
And still I wait.
Life beats fast before
Closing its chambers.
Red rivers flow
Until merging with black water.
Time stands still momentarily;
Then it’s gone in one moment;
The tide pools quell
Waiting mysteriously with hidden messages.
Black water flows on
I’m finished waiting
It’s time to go home.
I wrote this poem over ten years ago while working the night shift in NYC. My patient was dying from complications of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). I knew nothing about this woman except that she was a prostitute at some point in her life, contracted HIV, was on a ventilator, near death, and all alone.
When I walk into a patient’s room, I don’t always have the luxury of caring for a person who can walk or talk. I may need to wear a mask to ward off Tuberculosis (TB), or gloves to protect myself from infected blood containing deadly organisms.
When I walk into a patient’s room I check my hang-ups at the door. I’m there for one reason, and for one reason only…to take care of the person in the bed in front of me to the best of my ability.
I don’t care how you got there, what you did in your life, if you’re a prisoner or a prostitute, I do care; however, how I’m going to make a difference in the twelve hours I’m assigned to your care.
I think the saddest thing I’ve encountered over my twenty-five years of nursing is when I’m caring for a dying patient who’s dying alone. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have an entourage holding vigil around the deathbed. Some of us go quietly, slipping out before anyone notices we’re even gone.
It’s heartbreaking to watch a fellow human being die alone. I try to be present when I can sitting quietly at the bedside to bid them farewell on to their next journey.
They say we come into this world alone, so leaving should be no different, but I beg to differ. I know this is my personal belief and may not be shared by others, but holding the hand of a lonely soul as they take their final breath is the least I can do as their nurse, but more importantly is the least I can do as their fellow human being.