When I began working at my first clinical site almost a year ago, I was not at all prepared for what that would mean. I had a very sanitized vision of a hospital where only the moderately sick were treated. The patients would be clean, sober, well dressed and not covered in any variety of bodily fluid. I was wrong on all counts. After only six months into my work at an inner city hospital I became stressed out, burned out and tired out. And I needed to take a breather.
Pretty early in, I had seen a day that included patients with track marks, open skin lesions due to “skin popping,” a guy who had fallen down the stairs and was still intoxicated, patients who couldn’t breath or talk due to intubation tubes, patients so obese they could not fit in one hospital bed. Then patient X came into for an obstructive series (standard x rays of the abdomen). We had to move her from the bed to the tabletop to get the images. In process, she pissed on herself and clothes had to be tossed. She accidentally exposed her breasts to me. Then I accidentally exposed her breasts to me (happens easier then you’d think). Then her dentures fell out. Then her wig fell off. If any one of these things happen to me, I would think it was the worst day of my life. And she got all four. I remember placing a hand on her forehead to calm her and thinking, ‘Please God, let this be the lowest day of her life. Let everyday from here on out be better than this one.” And even though I giggled nervously (humor being so close to pathos, it happens when you work in a hospital), I sincerely hope I made her day even a little better with some words of kindness.
Now as I am only 3 short months away from reentering the field, I need to remind myself of why I was drawn to it in the first place. I have been sick. Like a lot. Like for the past 6 years. I developed mono, which kept me out of work on medical leave for four months and this was 6 years ago. I have not been quite the same since. I can easily sleep for 14 hours a day and still feel tired. I have had every test possible to rule out lupus, RA, Lyme disease, and chronic mono (which was confirmed). I have been poked. and prodded. and sat for long hours under harsh fluorescent lighting to wait for test results that were just “borderline.” I have had doctors tell me to “just eat more Cheerios,” “start running more,” “take more naps,” and one who I swear came very close to telling me I had “hysterical female syndrome,” as he stepped away from me like my ovaries were about to explode. I know intimately what it is like to feel sick…to be sick.
So my breather is over. I steel myself for the ugliness that taking care of others often means. I look ahead with courage and hope that I will somehow find reserves of untapped strength and endurance I never knew I had. I pray that I can use my heart, my head and my hands to heal others. And that I will still be able to find humor in the pathos.