Welcome to the first 2016 installment of Nurse Chronicles. If you missed the fourth edition, click here Nurse Chronicles, Volume 4: Funny & Touching Stories From the Lives of Passionate Nurses Nurse Chronicles is about creating a space where nurses can talk about the good the bad and the ugly.
Today, nurse and author Cindy Balch shares her perspective on how nurses embrace what often feels the worst moments of their patients’ lives, death and her Christian faith.
This is a great read, so steal a couple minutes from your busy day, grab a snack and enjoy.
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TODAY, I AM YOUR NURSE
Yesterday, I was the stranger you passed at the bank. I was the woman you smiled at in the frozen food section aisle at the grocery store.
I was the grandmother taking her grandsons to the park or out for an ice cream treat. I was the lady you sat next to at the little league game or prayed next to at church.
Today, today I am your nurse.
I know when you woke up this morning you never imagined, not in your wildest dreams, that you would be in the Intensive Care unit before the day was over.
You are the one who had chest pain, ignored it, thought it was just something strange you ate last night, until the pain became so severe you thought you were going to die.
You are the one who found themselves so burdened by life’s troubles you sought a way out. A tragic way out-- a bottle of pills, a gun, you didn’t care as long as it did the job.
You didn't think there was a better solution than the one you chose. My heart aches as I wish there had been someone there to hear your cries and help you.
We all need each other.Every last one of us.
Maybe you are the one who climbed that ladder you knew you shouldn’t climb and fell. You had so many plans for the day and now you are in a coma.
Life as you knew it will never be the same.
You are the teenager who succumbed to peer pressure and took the drug you knew nothing about, a drug that was suppose to make you feel good, instead it will probably kill you. You are the one who went for a Sunday drive with your family only to be stopped by a drunk driver. You are the one who thought those two packs of cigarettes a day or that pint of whiskey would never catch up with you. Today they did.
Today, today I am your nurse.
I woke up at 5 a.m. this morning as I always do. On my more courageous days I often wonder what the day will hold in store for me. I never really know. Sometimes that’s a good thing because if I had known the sadness I would face that day I would have pulled the covers back over my head and hid from the world.
But because I have gotten use to a roof over my head and food on the table, I pray instead of retreating and depend on God to help me through whatever the day may bring my way and yours. All too often it is a bitter sweet experience for both of us.
After 37 years of Critical Care Nursing, I know I can’t make it alone. Life is full of too many surprises and not all of them good.
I have seen over and over again how a day can start out so normal and end so tragically.
One moment, you’re on top of the world and the next moment the weight of the world is falling on you.
One moment, your world is right side up and the next moment it has been utterly turned upside down and inside out along with your heart.
You get that dreaded call from the hospital or from the police. Your loved one has been injured. They’ve been taken to the hospital. They are in critical condition.
The prayers begin, even if you’ve never bothered to pray before, you pray now. Life is suddenly to be taken very seriously.
Today, today I am your nurse.
I await your arrival in the ICU.
My co-workers are there to help me if I need it. The Emergency department has stabilized you as best they can and they are getting ready to bring you to me. I see you for the first time. I also see the fright in your eyes. I smile hoping that will help calm you a little. I explain what I am doing as I attach multiple wires and tubes to your body.
You are still scared. I know. I would be too. I see that same look of fear in your loved ones eyes as they agonizingly wait outside for news. Praying for good news while bracing for the worst. Bargaining with God…. “God if you will keep my husband from dying I’ll go to church, I’ll help out with charities, I’ll stop swearing, I’ll…”you fill in the blanks. We have all been there.
I too have been scared senseless. I always thought of myself as someone who doesn’t scare easily until I remember the day my daughter went into labor two months early with twins.
“Oh God, if You will only let them live I’ll…”,and the prayers began.
I can remember walking into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for my first glimpse of my new grandsons and feeling as if I had suddenly been transported to Mars or Venus.
After all these years,I am use to sick adults, but brand new babies, sick brand new babies, well, that’s something else altogether. There they were in those high tech isolettes, with all of its lights, bells, whistles and alarms, breathing so fast, looking so helpless, dependent on the knowledge of every nurse and doctor there that day. Oh God, I muttered, I hope they paid attention in class.
My new grand babies were so tiny I could have held them in the palm of my hand.
Then I saw it…a look I knew too well…the look I have often given…the look the nurse gives the doctor as she whispers into his ear he better come check the babies. She whispers so the family members won’t hear. I didn’t have to hear, I knew that look and my heart sank to my toes, my eyes filled with tears as they placed both of my little 3 pound grandsons on life support.
They looked like little drowned rats, with tubes everywhere, but it didn’t matter. It was love at first sight.
So, you see, I do know what it’s like to be scared. Everything in me wants to get you better and send you home with your family who obviously loves you very much. Only time would tell.
Today, our paths will cross. As nurses, we have taken care of the rich and the famous. Funny, how death doesn’t care how much money you have or don’t have. Suddenly, fancy cars and boats aren’t very important in the scheme of things. We have cared for the not so rich and the not so famous…even the homeless too. How sad to think their only means of having a warm bed to sleep in, something to eat and the chance to get in out of the cold is because they are sick. We have cared for them all at one time or another. Illness is also no respecter of persons. It comes to us all, every race, creed or color. To the unknown, the friendless, the young and the old, the athlete, the not so athletic.
Today...today I am your nurse.
I have seen a lot of tragedy and triumph over the last 37 years. Some days I feel as if I have seen too much. I have seen a husband come into the hospital and watched his wife walk out of it a widow. Every time I see a daughter or a son lose their father I remember back to the day I lost my dad. When I see a child lose their mother I hurry home and call my mom thanking God and so grateful for one more day with her. Our hearts hurt just like yours.
Sometimes, our coping skills are terribly misunderstood. To hospital visitors it may appear we laugh at inappropriate times…and we do… trouble is we have to.
It’s not because we don’t care. It’s because most of us care too much. We know that one day we will be where you are today. It’s how we survive. This invisible wall we erect keeps the heart from breaking and the tears from flowing uncontrollably. It’s how we wake up tomorrow as nurses and face another day and another and another.
It hurts my heart to know that the laws of this great country prevent nurses from praying with their patients. I do not believe it has always been that way.
I think our forefathers had more sense than we seem to have today. These silly laws may prevent me from praying with you but it does not prevent me from praying for you.
You don’t have to know but God knows and He listens and hears and He answers. Sometimes the healer of our souls says no. Those are my hardest days at work. Letting go is never easy, necessary, but never easy.
One thing I can promise you is that I will never give up as long as there is one ray of hope left. If there truly is no hope our focus as nurses changes to allowing you to leave this world with dignity and as little pain as possible.
Some day’s life makes no sense and some day’s death makes even lesser sense.
Why do we fear death so much? Not all of us do. Death is a final declaration that the party is over.
There is no turning back. The choices we made in our lifetime suddenly take on tremendous significance. You are now accountable for your life.
There are only two ways to die with Him or without Him. If you have lived your life on your own terms, living as if God doesn’t exist then you have every reason to be afraid. I would be too.
To those of us with faith, death is a part of life. It is not the end. It is a transition not to be feared. Why? Because God says don’t be afraid. And I believe Him. One day you close your eyes on this earth and open them up to the glory of God’s heaven, only to discover you are home…for all eternity.
You look up and there He is, holding His arms open to receive and welcome you and you notice there are nail prints in those precious Hands. Nail prints put there by man.Yes, it was all true, it happened just as God said it did.
The words of the Psalmist become a reality.
“Yes, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for You are with me.”
How comforting to know we don’t have to take that final journey alone. Yet, there are those who will only because they choose to.
For now, death is our enemy. Not until we come to the end do we realize how precious life really is. Death is a very hated enemy especially when it comes too soon. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. But death never has been a respecter of persons. I know one day we will all die, but I hope when my time comes the physicians and nurses caring for me are tenacious in trying to give me one last chance at life.
Why? Because sometimes we win. Sometimes we send the angel of death running. Sometimes we beat the odds and the end as we know it is saved for a later time.
Knowing that we can win makes it possible for nurses and physicians to return tomorrow and the next day and the next.
How do I know sometimes we win? Right now as I sit at my computer writing, my little twin grandsons, Cody and Austin, who are now 3 years old, are trying to crawl up in my lap and hit the delete button. I hug them and they squeal. Their little voices are music to my ears. To see them today you would never know how close to death they both were.
When my grandsons turned one year old, my daughter and I sent some See’s Candies to the nurses and the doctors at Woman’s Hospital of Texas which read, “I know your job is hard and some days you might feel like giving up…but here are two good reasons why you can’t.” Enclosed was a picture of my grandsons in their Superman and Batman costumes, hamming it up for the camera, “my lil Texas peanuts.”
Always remember…never give up and never stop praying, because there are days we do win. Those can far out weigh the days we don’t.
Each new day beckons us to take one more step closer to the Lord and to make a commitment to Him more serious than the one before.
With God, there is no such thing as just an ordinary day.
You don’t have to give up unless you choose to.
Today, today I am your nurse.
Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow you may be my nurse.
Written by Cindy Balch, RN, BS, CCRN, CEN, CLNC
Author of the book “The Journey Is Too Great For Thee”