Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Nurses really matter.

The nurses matter because, after the doctor writes her orders, they are sent over to nurses who actually do everything. The nurse assigned to you for the day will be the one to find a vein, to stick a catheter into that vein, to sit and push toxic chemicals through the catheter into the vein, to check on you to be sure your arm is not swelling or reddening and your face isn't flushing. She'll talk to you and comfort you and explain all the side effects and then, later, take out the catheter and wrap up your hand so it doesn't bleed, and send you home.

The good ones get the needle stick on the first try.
The bad ones moan about your inconvenient veins and muddle around a bit under your skin...with a sharp object.

The good ones know that all the fluids, both hazardous and harmless, can hurt going in. So they set saline drips to be relatively slow, and sit with you to push ver-r-r-r-r-ry slowly, by hand, anything that is a real problem.
The bad ones have somewhere else to be, and just shove that plunger down quickly.

The good ones think about how your arm should be placed on its pillow, how the lines are draped (to stay out of our way); they place their warm hands, for heat, on your forearm when the chemicals are stinging.
The bad ones figure you can do all that yourself.

The good ones remember, week to week, that you are afraid of needles and don't like to watch that catheter being inserted. They remember that you don't want a warning, thanks--just stick it in while you look at the opposite wall. They notice when your anxiety is getting worse each time, and making your stomach upset for no other reason, and they recommend Atavan to help out, and then contact the oncology staff to get it prescribed. And then they give you a whole pill.
The bad ones don't notice any of this stuff, although they'll let you look away during the needle sticks.

The good ones stand there with nothing else to do, really, for 15 minutes to watch you and ask you questions when you get a new drug. Do you feel funny? Any changes? When you report that yes, on this new drug Taxol you are experiencing a tightening in your chest (harder to breathe) and these bizarre, spasmodic, pulsing pains in your lower back, she runs to the pharmacy and bangs on the window to get your Benadryl, and then slowly, slowly, pushes it into the saline drip (having turned off the Taxol for a while) and soothes you as the symptoms subside. She lingers more, waits to be sure you feel okay. When she restarts the Taxol (because that's what they do--no one is deterred by a little allergic reaction), she watches carefully again, asks all the questions, smiles at how groggy you're getting thanks to Atavan and a huge dose of IV Benadryl, doesn't leave until you have taken in 25cc's and it's clear you'll be OK this time.

The good ones are off shortly after 4, but say they can stay until 5 today (since your allergy problems didn't even resolve until after 4:15) so they can keep checking. They make sure to hand off smoothly to the nurse who will stay late, until almost 8pm, since your drip is 3 hours long and has to go slowly at first.

The good ones smile and laugh, tell you funny stories about movies they went to and happy stories about their upcomming weddings. They answer all questions with confidence. They have their share of complaints about the hospital's current bureaucratic admin changes, but they focus on the positive: "Change is always hard; we'll just learn it and we'll be fine." They tell stories of their own families' cancer histories, or their own; they talk about their years of experience giving chemotherapy, and why they do it, and the best ones have pet peeves that involve shirking on quality patient care, so you know you're in good hands.

Today's nurse, Lilia, who is the best nurse and whom I request, now (having learned my lesson), every time--told another story of a patient who was rude to her, who dropped her newspaper and told the doctor, as he bent to pick it up, "Don't worry--the girl will get it." She meant Lilia, who heard it and got all her ire raised. What a fool was this woman. She is still coming in to USC, and now the very best oncology nurse there--the one who can make sure you don't hurt, when let me tell you, other nurses make you hurt--doesn't like her. What a stupid and avoidable mistake.

The nurses make all the difference. Lilia stands between me and repeated pain. I feel so lucky to have found her (on my first day of chemo!) and so smart to continue requesting her. I hope she is paid extremely well, and I'm sure she's not. But she'll be able to look back on her life, and say honestly and deservedly, "I lived well, I did something important, I made a difference."


Anonymous said...

While I couldn't agree with you more, there is another story here: You are the best patient in the world. I don't mean that you take everything better than everyone else, or you're the easiest or nicest person at chemo. But you are the most thoughtful and appreciative and caring. Yes, here you are enduring so much, and you still have the capacity to care so much about your nurse! If she read what you wrote she'd probably cry. It is so moving. You are so moving. I wish beyond all wishes that you weren't going through this, but the strength you've displayed throughout this ordeal--here evidenced by your ability to still care so much about others and be looking for the good in them and what they bring to you in this trial--is incredibly moving. Really, watching you power through this has made me respect, admire, adore, and love you all the much more, and I feel it's brought us even closer together. Don't ever feel you're burdening me. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to be there for you and care for you. And I'm just amazed that you're still so able to care about others, like Lilia. She is great and so are you! And, oh yeah...only three more to go!

Bobbe said...

I just got your site yesterday and read all through it and was awed at your courage, strength, tenacity and tenderness.
As I read your last entry about nurses I was thinking WOW she has this so right. The caring nurse is such a lift and help when you are in such unknown territory.
You are a brave lady, a wonderful wife and have a loving husband.

BTW loved the wig!!!!!!!!