Forever on Duty
Updated: Jun 20, 2019
Medical people often joke about how they are constantly working. We go to the grocery store and analyze ever person walking around us. This does not stop when you become a patient. You are constantly assessing yourself as well as those around you. I spent many of those first days back among the living working as a nurse. I had a series of roommates as I was transferred from ICU to the Neuro step-down floor as I stabilized. My first roommate had a tracheostomy and would constantly choke or moan in pain. So I was constantly on my call bell, calling for help for her. I rarely used my call light for myself unless it was for the bathroom which was something I was now totally reliant on hospital staff to help me use a bedpan. I never even got to see my roommate's face, to this day I could not tell you if she was old or young. But all I knew those days were that she needed help, and I would do what I could.
But I now had a new outlook on the situation. As I told my mom when I explained what I had to do, I said sadly "that could have been me." If I could use what little power I had left to even call for help for someone, I would do it. Because if the roles were reversed, I would hope that someone would do it for me.
I barely slept while in the hospital because I felt responsible for my roommate. The nurses caught onto this quickly. I would constantly be on the call bell for my roommate, or up listening to alarms being set off "CODE PURPLE." I quickly asked my nurse one night what code purple stood for, which she told me was a psych emergency. The patient was having a psychological crisis. As I think back on it they probably needed to call a code purple on me when I was screaming into the empty room after waking from sedation. The final straw for my nurses was when I woke up to the sound of something banging in the bed next to me. My roommate was having a code purple. Every doctor kept telling me I needed sleep but not only did I tell them but so did the team of nurses tell them that it would be impossible for me on this floor with the chaos that was ensuing every night. The next day I was transferred to a new room, with hopes that I could get the rest my body so desperately needed to heal.
Not only was I being prevented from sleep with the noise around me, but that horrible feeding tube now gave me acid reflux and would trigger hiccups while I slept which would wake me up. I would be disturbed by nurses administering meds through it, which triggered a very unpleasant cold rushing feeling down my throat. I asked if they could at least warn me when they were doing it. I begged every day to have it removed, which was finally granted when my swallow ability was sufficient for a blended and thickened liquid diet. I didn't care at that point what I would have to eat as long as I was able to do it on my own.
Once the feeding tube was removed, I thought I would finally be able to sleep through the night. How silly of me was that. My next roommate screamed bloody murder as they tried to put a feeding tube down her nose one night. I could sympathize with her during this because I had been there. Then, she began shouting at me every night. Calling me by another name, which I discovered was her daughter's name. She would constantly ask me, her daughter, what we were having for breakfast. Knowing she had a feeding tube I knew she wouldn't be eating on her own for a while. She began to harass me when I tried calling down to the kitchen in the morning to order my own breakfast, so much that I had to ask the nurses if they could order it for me out in the hall so she could not hear. I was still putting others before myself, something I have done since I was born. The NP in me knew it would be cruel to taunt this poor woman with food when she wasn't allowed any.
One night as my mom sat visiting with me, we heard a sudden loud bang coming from behind the curtain. My mom jumped up and rushed to my roommate's side and found her on the floor. She had tried to get out of bed and fallen, every nurse's nightmare. My mom yelled to me to push my call button, which I did and shouted over the speaker that my roommate had fallen. Teams rushed in to help the woman, and then my nurse I had that day who was also very pregnant came running into me. She was distressed and said "oh god I was just down in the cafeteria trying to get a diet coke and they paged me saying that you called for a fall, I ran up here so fast I almost went into labor!" I reassured her I was fine and told her what happened.
After this incident, I was once again given a new roommate because she needed more supervision and I still was barely getting any sleep with the shenanigans that was occurring. Thankfully my last roommate during this hospital visit was nice, quiet, and would often refer to my mom as mom as well and we chatted casually throughout the days we were together.
One of my best friends from college Heather joked recently that they should do a roommate compatibility questionnaire in hospitals like they do for college roommates. I would highly recommend it after my experience. Hospitals are loud enough between the IV pumps constantly alarming for no reason and people talking in halls. It is easy for medical teams to preach the importance of sleep for recovery to a patient, but I now have first hand experience at how impossible this is. And providers can't turn off being providers even when we are ill ourselves. We are so busy taking care of others that we often forget that sometimes we need to be taken care of.
It's an important lesson I've learned for the rest of my life. I wish I didn't have to almost die to learn this lesson, but I am working on extracting every positive I can from this experience.