I recently had a patient say she wouldn’t have agreed to take a certain treatment if she’d of known it would have made her so miserable. She proclaimed, “I wanted to live” as her reason for seeking additional treatment. However, witnessing her current state firsthand, I imagine her mind was consumed with regret, yearning to be home with her loving husband as opposed to coming face to face with death, again. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if, in her current state, she would rather be dead.
After spending several shifts in a row in the trenches alongside her, I was exhausted, yet painfully motivated as her advocate to increase awareness of her experience to those who were not with her during her struggles…
I appreciate, respect and share the same drive you do to extend and save human lives. We are, after all, on the same side, battling this crippling disease called cancer. It’s an enemy of both of ours, and it doesn’t ever play by the rules, which is why people say oncology nursing isn’t for the weak-minded or those with weak stomachs. You must be willing to humbly learn several new things in a day’s time.
Although on the same side, our roles in this battle are vastly diverse; I am on the front lines, witnessing everything from beginning to end. You, my general, although brilliant, have this pesky gift of ignorance that aids in your ability to cope with the consequences of the decisions you make in the best interest of your patients.
You don’t see the fear in their eyes when we gown up and administer chemotherapy…the way they turn their heads so as not to watch as we literally push, what they believe is both poison and their only hope for life, into their veins…
If a patient is projectile vomiting, experiencing a seemingly endless waterfall of diarrhea or violently rigoring, you aren’t; holding the bucket, running out of bath wipes nor administering narcotics slow so they won’t vomit…and all-the-while reassuring them and their family that this is an unfortunate side effect of their treatment.
You don’t have to fight back your own tears when called by a patient after you’ve left them alone to stew in fresh news that their cancer is still there and they’d have to start all over. You are shielded from the truth of what they physically and mentally experience daily, yet you are trusted and expected to make decisions in their best interest.
Doc, I no longer believe it is in your best interest to remain shielded from the truth. It is well understood that neither of us can truly comprehend a patient’s perspective unless we’ve been there. However, I would like to offer you an opportunity to experience what your patients go through from the front lines.
If you accept, you must understand that you will not have the power to order medications or intervene under your current scope. You will spend a day or two following me in the trenches and we will work shoulder to shoulder to kick some cancer ass and save some lives (in so many ways). Disclaimer…we don’t always win our battles.
If you decline, and would prefer to live and work under the protected shield you adorn (that’s okay too, it’s hard to do what we do) let me leave you with this…
For those patients who desperately “just want to live” and accept treatment without question: I urge you to make time to sit down and be honest with them about what to expect. If you don’t know, own it. List all of their options, including the option to focus on quality of life and comfort. Listen to their concerns. Give them time to come up with questions and process what they have just heard.
I cannot imagine that those human beings who seek refuge from their cancer and trust in your guidance and expertise, would want their extended lives to conclude, confined to a tiny box linked to a miniscule bathroom, surrounded by constant reminders of the very disease that means to end their existence.
If you read through all of this, I appreciate your time and thank you for listening.
Regardless of which path you choose, shielded or not, I’ll continue doing what I can do to bring a bit of hope, clarity and peace of mind to any and every patient I have the pleasure of getting to know. I am looking forward to your answer…oh, and doc, if you decide to ride along or shadow me, leave the white coat at home. 😉
the silent nurse