There are distinct miracles that occur in every nurse’s career no matter what department or what setting you are employed. Nurses carry many memories that last a lifetime, and entwined in those memories are miracles that happen when we least expect them.
Nurses in the ICU that I worked with during my career saw many miracles but also severe disappointments. It was, however, the miracles that sustained us, kept us going, and enriched our lives. This story is about one of those miracles, and I do suspect you will get a small chuckle from this one.
Mr. Greene had been in our ICU for about four weeks. Just the very fact that he had survived a thirty foot fall from scaffolding while doing his job and sustained only head injuries was a miracle in itself. They had guessed that the bushes below the scaffolding had cushioned his fall and saved his life. He did have anterior and posterior fractures of his skull and thus, when admitted, fit into a protocol for head traumas.
He was placed on a ventilator and had an arterial line, a line for measuring his intracranial pressures (ICP), a nasogastric tube to help protect his airway, a foley catheter and multiple intravenous lines.
In the beginning, his dear wife, Amanda, stayed with him 24/7 leaving his bedside only to eat and freshen herself in the restroom. Family members brought her meals and changes of clothing and we made sure she had a recliner chair, pillows, blankets and plenty to drink. With each passing day you could see her shoulders sag just a little more, and the dark circles under her eyes were a clear indication she was not getting enough rest.
Steadily Mr. Greene recovered enough that he no longer needed the ICP monitor, the arterial line or the ventilator. Some of the drips were discontinued, but the foley catheter remained and the nasogastric tube which allowed him to receive nutrition not only through an IV line but also via the tube. There were several tense situations as he was recovering, but he steadily was improving. He still followed no commands, though, and did not open his eyes no matter how much his wife and our staff coaxed him.
As the days crept by, Amanda came to us and told us that she would be returning to work. She said that she felt okay “because most everyone that takes care of him I know.” We believed strongly in continuity of care and she felt comfortable in knowing the select few that had him on a regular basis would be there for him. She was reluctant but knew that to “make ends meet” she needed to get back to work and would visit before her shift and after she got off from her job. It had now been four weeks, and she was disappointed that he had not advanced more. We had explained to her that every head trauma patient improved at their own pace, and we had no idea how long it would take her husband or how far he would recover.
It was into the fourth week when Mr. Greene opened his eyes. His face was expressionless, though; and he stared steadily at the wall and clock in front of him. The staff turned on the TV for him in intervals, turned and repositioned him every two hours to avoid break down of his skin, and physical therapy worked with him doing passive exercises and sitting him up in the chair.
We questioned our hope that he would improve any further and then we got our miracle. I had him that day (and many days before) and the conversation, needless to say, was very one sided. We all chatted away while caring for him as a form of stimulation and watched for even a slight change in his gaze. While giving him his bed bath, his eyes went from glazed to showing some recognition; and I was sure he was “in there.” Frustrated, I asked him to do several different “normal” commands like squeeze my hand, but he did nothing when asked.
It was the next command that I gave him that gave all of us hope. Standing right in front of him and looking straight into his eyes I said, “Mr. Greene, I just sense it down to my toes that you are in there; and I want you to show me by holding up one finger.” Think about it. His brain had to remember what he had to do to carry out that simple task. We got the miracle that day because very slowly, but with purpose, he was able to slowly but deliberately lift one finger. I was happily overcome and called everyone into the room. Within five minutes every one of the staff and the attending doctor encircled his bed.
I held my breath because, what if he wouldn’t do it again. The doctor and staff had already given me a very skeptical look. The request was given by the doctor, and with a round of applause Mr. Greene responded to the doctor’s request to raise his finger.
Nurses do see miracles everyday around this globe that we call earth. Believe! Hold onto those miracles because you will have disappointments too. Cherish the miracles as they will sustain you and your career for a lifetime!”