Road Trip: Rehab for the ICU Nurse

Courtesy of the author; all rights reserved.

By Marcy Phipps, RN, a regular contributor to this blog. Her essay, “The Love Song of Frank,” was published in the May issue of AJN.

I took care of Gloria when she was admitted to the ICU after being involved in a high-speed, head-on collision. Although her injuries were very serious, my initial instinct was that she’d recover. I had a good feeling about her; as it turned out, I’d made a mistake in underestimating her mortality.

But everyone did, I think.

For the first few days her plan of care was routine and she progressed as expected. After several surgeries she was being successfully weaned from the ventilator. There was a plan for extubation. Gloria was awake and cooperative with all aspects of treatment.

She had an engaging spirit, and although she was never able to communicate with us well, we became attached to her and quite protective; we often requested taking care of her as our shift assignment, and later become strained and snappish with one another as unexpected complications propelled her along a steep and steady decline. Rehabilitation was ultimately traded for an extended ICU stay; extubation plans were cancelled in lieu of a tracheostomy.

I work among a group of passionate people. We’re determined and diligent. Because of that, a patient’s death in the ICU sometimes feels like a failure. We’re […]

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I stepped toward him and put my hand on his shoulder, thinking that I’d just seen this man’s last breath, and that he was gone.