Those Who Comfort Us

There was only a tiny drop of blood. I was worried, of course, but I went to my OB-GYN for reassurance more than anything else. Maybe she would tell me I was doing too much and needed to rest. Maybe it was just normal. But as soon as she looked at the ultrasound screen, I knew.

Usually when I went for a scan, she immediately turned the screen toward me. Until now, every scan had been great. I had just entered my second trimester. The barrage of tests given to women of “advanced maternal age” had all come back normal. The baby’s heartbeat was strong at every visit, and I was riddled with nausea, something I’d been told was a “good sign.”

This time she stared at the screen for what seemed like forever. Then, quietly, she told me that my baby of 16 weeks’ gestation no longer had a heartbeat. Moments later, the high-risk doctor came in to confirm this. I turned away as he talked to my doctor about the “degradation” he could see, suggesting the death had happened over a week before. Somehow this terrible word—and image—is what stuck with me, even weeks after the event.

Later I entered the ambulatory center where I would have a D and C. I’d never felt so out of touch with my body. I was floating somewhere above, watching myself make zombie-like motions with a blank stare. A nurse met me at the elevator. She took me by the arm and gently steered me aboard. “I’m so sorry,” she said. I wanted to throw myself into her arms and sob. Instead I managed a weak smile and nodded.

Lots of people submit pieces to AJN wanting to thank nurses for the care they provide. When a nurse makes all the difference in a difficult situation, it’s obvious why so many people feel compelled to document it. The care doesn’t even have to be earth-shattering. Some nurses might say they were just doing their job. But the simplest things—a touch, a gesture, kind words, a connection—can provide comfort in an otherwise comfortless situation.

The nurse who took care of me during my brief stay was just the right mix of gentle, informative, understanding, and humorous. She had a big presence, both in stature and in her strong voice. I could tell she was seasoned. Despite the fact that she worked in a busy ambulatory center that performed surgeries all day, I felt like I was her only patient.

She placed a warm blanket on me while I waited to go into surgery. Something about this maternal gesture, from a complete stranger, made my tears begin to fall. “This isn’t going to be easy. Especially this weekend being Mother’s Day. It’s going to mess with your head,” she said. “But it will get easier.” I appreciated her honesty.

“I have a beautiful son at home,” I said. “I’ll try to focus on him.”

“But that doesn’t change the loss,” she said. This validation of the grief I felt returned to me in the coming weeks, when people offered well-intentioned but unhelpful platitudes that downplayed the loss.

She comforted me when my emotions ramped up as I was wheeled into surgery. I started to sob. “I’m scared,” I said, sounding like a 10-year-old. “It’s going to be okay,” she said. “It’s all going to be okay.” The sedative didn’t take long to take effect. She held my hand as I drifted off.

Later, when I woke, the nurse told me, somewhat to my embarrassment, that just before I fell asleep I’d blurted out that I worked for AJN, and how much I respected nurses, that they were the ones who really connected with patients. I have no recollection of this, but it does echo how I feel. Especially about nurses like this one, who was helping me get through perhaps the hardest day of my life thus far.

When my husband arrived, she said, “You have a beautiful wife,” despite the fact that I was a mess inside and out. She told him to pull the car up, and that she would bring me down to the parking lot in a wheelchair. My teeth were chattering, a side effect, she explained, of the anesthesia. “Let me get you a warm blanket,” she said. She wrapped the blanket around my shoulders, and the heat offered some relief and safety. As we wheeled past the nurse’s station, another nurse said, “You’re not allowed to take the blankets out of here.” “Really?” My nurse replied. “Hmm, I didn’t know that.” She winked at me conspiratorially, and we kept going.

Outside in the dazzling sun, it seemed impossible to digest that I was no longer pregnant. That this had happened to me. That I was one of the “less than one percent” of people who miscarry in their second trimester. That my imagined future, with two little boys playing together, was not going to happen. The nurse squeezed my hand, snapping me out of my thoughts. She helped me into the car and said goodbye, leaving me with the confiscated blanket.

2017-06-19T09:39:52+00:00 June 19th, 2017|Nursing, patient engagement, patient experience|2 Comments

About the Author:

Managing editor, American Journal of Nursing

2 Comments

  1. Amanda June 20, 2017 at 2:37 am

    A very similar experience actually lead me to the career change of nursing!

    A missed miscarriage in the second trimester; but D&C was deemed too high risk for haemorrhage so I was induced. It took a very long time to have anything begin, and I sent my husband home for the night, thinking nothing would happen till the morning. It had been a horrific three days up to that point.

    10 minutes after he left, it began. The nurse who rode out that night with me : of pain and grief and horror and broken hearts and spirits changed my life. She was everything that I needed; not too close but Unafraid of physical contact when it was needed.

    I went back to university as a mature age student and in the years of practice since, I try to emulate the perfect balance between conspiratorial humour, compassion, warmth and empathy she gave to me so freely on the worst night of my life.

  2. Lynn Ragusa June 19, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Beautiful story. I’m truly sorry for your loss. Also share your gratitude for the nurse and those like her that make it better when we are hurting.

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