"you can't be all things to all people,"
she told me. she's a
retired Registered Nurse and she's
in the nursing home because she can't breathe. too many
cigarettes. she's not "old," she's in her late 50's or
early 60's, i don't remember which, and she's as sharp
as a tack. she takes a powerful drug to help her breathe
and another nurse was assigned to her rather than the
usual nurse i follow, whom i adore. there was some confusion
on the different nurse's part as to when the medication
is administered, but Ms H didn't say anything, just took the
pill and remembered she'd taken it.
so i come on at 7 and i give her the same drug at the time i'm
used to giving it. she is so alert and oriented that i just leave her
medication with her, don't stand and watch her take it. a
"professional courtesy," i guess you could say. and then i
fly out of the room as my first med pass is very long and i
have two halls to cover in two hours and that sounds like it
should be enough, doesn't it? but it's not. things are rarely
as simple as they should be in nursing. there are people
who need to be gentled into taking their meds, things they
expect in a certain way which i was unfamiliar with, but it's
getting easier for me since i've been there a month.
but because she's so short of breath, Ms H has a very soft
voice and i have poor hearing. add to that the fact that she
thought my name was Cindy and you have a real lack of
communication. so Ms H just waited until the R.N. came by
and she told her about the mix-up.
i went white when i was told. it wasn't immediately dangerous,
but it was significant because if she wasn't as with it as she is,
the long term consequences could adversely affect her health
status. so we talked about it, Ms H and i. we talked about how
hard it is being a nurse, being responsible for people's lives
when you're just a human being and capable of making errors.
i feel that most of the people i meet in my life are there because we
have things to learn from each other, or because one of us needs
the other. i think Ms H is under my care because someone,
somewhere wants me to stop smoking before i end up in a bed
unable to breathe, being cared for by fallible human beings who
mean, with everything inside of them, to do their very best, but
who will fail sometimes.
Ms H's roommate is the sweet little woman i wrote about a while
ago in that thing i called "caged souls." I'll call her Ms N. Ms N,
because she has a tube in her stomach, is not supposed to get
anything by mouth, but she doesn't care. she constantly wants a
drink of water. those are the hardest patients to care for sometimes
because you can't make them understand why they can't have
something that's instinctive as breathing.
the first time Ms N asked me for water i tried to tell her no. Ms
H told me that Ms N's son came in every night and gave his mother
cranberry juice without any problem at all, so i tried giving her a
small sip of water and she did very well. it soothed her, too. but
she loves her water ice cold. she hates the water in her water
pitcher because we don't put ice in it as we use it to flush her stomach tube.
so this morning Ms N told me, "i'm hurtin', honey." i tried to offer
her liquid Tylenol that i would give her by tube, but she said,
"i don't want any of that," so we were at an impasse. the next
shift was coming on and i had two last people to give meds to
and i needed to get done and give report, but Ms N, she's so
sweet, with her tiny little voice and her sweet way, that i hated to leave her.
i told Ms H, "i can't stand this. some nights i want to do just one
thing for every person i take care of that will make the night better
for them, but there are so many nights when all i can do is maintain,
when there isn't time to give one thing more, or the one thing they
want is something i'm not supposed to do.
Ms H looked at me for a long minute and said, in her husky, cigarette
voice, "i had a DON at the first hospital i ever worked in tell me
something i never forgot, something that made it easier for me
when i got off duty and felt i'd not done enough. she told me,
'you can't be all things to all people.'"
of course she's right and i know that, but Ms N was hurting
and didn't want the Tylenol, so i said to her, "what can i do
for you that would make it better for you?"
"well, honey," Ms N said, "i reckon that a drink of ice cold water
would feel just right right about now."
the other nurses were waiting, i had two more people waiting
for meds, and the ice machine was a bit of a trip down the hall,
but i made that trip and i gave Ms N her ice cold water and Ms H
said, as i walked back into the room with the cup of water for
Ms N, "see? i told you she's a nice nurse and she'd take care of you."
i can't be everything to everybody, but at least last night i did a
few things right for a few people and it cost me nothing, really.
the nurses waited for me, the other two residents got their meds
and i got to drive home with music i love playing on the radio,
with mountains to walk beside me all the way to Gadsden, and
with the knowledge that i am going to make mistakes and i will
hurt people sometimes, but i will do the right things sometimes, too.
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