By Marcy Phipps, RN, whose essay, “The Soul on the Head of a Pin,” was published in the May 2010 issue of AJN.
“Hgb 4.1,” the lab tech said, and we jumped as though someone had fired a starter pistol. While one nurse called the on-call trauma doctor, the rest of us mobilized in preparation for the interventions we anticipated.
The “critical results” call wasn’t a surprise. The teenager’s pelvis had been crushed when he was run over by a delivery truck. His blood pressure was holding fairly steady, but we didn’t put much faith in that. In cases of hemorrhagic shock, young patients tend to compensate until the very last second, and we knew that.
His heart rate was soaring and his color was terrible. In the 15 minutes since he’d been wheeled into the unit, flat and flaccid on a stretcher, he’d gone from barely arousable to completely nonresponsive. Aside from his shallow, even respirations, he looked strikingly dead.
A good nursing team functions like a choreographed troupe, and we were at our best that day, moving with staccato precision. Massive transfusions can do wonders; still, it was amazing how quickly he improved. He lost the gray-white pallor and his heart rate stabilized. Then his lashes fluttered and he opened his eyes.
He regarded us working over him for several minutes. The air of urgency remained, and the gravity of his condition was no secret.
“This is bad, isn’t it?” he asked.
And it wasn’t a time for platitudes.
“We’re not going to lie to you.” We told him. “It is bad. You’re in rough shape, but you’ve got a good team here . . . ”
He nodded as he closed his eyes.
His dad, planted on a nearby chair after he’d swooned, pale and sick with his own shock, perked up as well. Heartened to see his son awake, he shakily got to his feet and came to the bedside to plant a cautious kiss on his son’s forehead. They spoke softly to each other, oblivious to us and what was going on around them.
Watching them grasp that fragile moment felt like witnessing a miracle. It’s stuck with me, reminding me, at least for now, of the things that are really important. I’d been irritable that day, worried about completing a school assignment on time, annoyed that it looked like I’d be getting out late, planning my next day off. Those things seemed petty and small, cast in the light of life and death.
I’m lucky; nursing affords me a front-row seat to glimpses of the things that are most important. It reminds me to pay attention to life and the people I love, and to hold tight to the fleeting moments that are right in front of me.