I recently started talking about going back to work as an RN before going to grad school. The boys are getting older and more independent by the day–which means I have more time on my hands and less purpose. I’ve also been feeling the need to give back, contribute something to society, to be a part of something bigger than the bubble we live in.
During a frank conversation with Stew, I told him how much I had loved working in MICU in Charlotte, the intensity and the autonomy that the job provided, but I also told him that I didn’t think I could watch people die again. It’s harder than you can ever imagine–even when those people are strangers. But at the same time, keeping someone alive, by all means possible, for the sake of the family, is even harder.
I can’t tell you how many times I was at a code (blue) where everyone stopped and looked at each other after catching the first glimpse of the patient. You could see the same look written plainly across everyone’s face. The nurses, the doctors, the respiratory therapist. We all wore the same “OMG what are we doing here?” look.
Will we crack her ribs if we do CPR? Does her family really understand what we’ll be putting her through? And worse yet, will they be prepared for the consequences if we succeed this time? Yes, we might be able to save her life but what would the quality of her life be? Would she end up bed ridden in a nursing home? Would she be able to communicate her needs? Interact with her family? These questions always weighed heavily on us as we ran the code.
Quality of life vs quantity of life. Which was it going to be?
So, what exactly were we doing there? To put it simply, we were doing what the family wanted, and what was legally and ethically required of us in that case.
It seems modern medicine has provided us with the perfect two headed snake. It has given us the means to save the un-saveable and at the same time it has stripped away our powers of offering dignity and peace at the end of life. Family members often feel guilty if they don’t do “everything” to save their loved one. However, sometimes, doing everything, causes more harm than good.
This article is a good summary of what I’m talking about–of how we’ve lost our sense of humanity and dying with dignity amongst the beeps and whirrs of machines.
An excerpt from “I Know You Love Me–Now Let Me Die”–
“We never say much as we frantically try to save the life we know we can’t save or perhaps silently hope we don’t save.”
“When it comes time for us to be called home, those of us in the know will pray that when we gaze down upon our last breath we will be grateful that our own doctors and families chose to do what they should instead of what they could, and with that we will close our eyes to familiar sounds in a familiar room, a fleeting smile and a final soft squeeze of a familiar hand.”