Day 3 - 40 Days of Hope for Healthcare Heroes

DAY 3

He holds all creation together.

Colossians 1:17

“I’m going to need some help in here,” called Mike, the emergency department triage nurse, as he and the patient’s wife guided the weak and shaky man to one of the trauma rooms.

As an emergency room physician, I was well-accustomed to assessing the urgency of a situation in seconds. In this case, the look on Mike’s face was the first indication that this was not a good situation. The splats of blood trailing behind them on the floor were the second.

I was familiar with Mr. Jackson from other times he had come in for complications from his tracheostomy and rapidly progressing laryngeal cancer. That he was bleeding again, and significantly, made me catch my breath with dread.

Sarah, another nurse, hooked up the suction as we guided Mr. Jackson to the gurney. Bright red blood splattered the sides of the suction container on the wall, and quickly collected in the bottom.

Mr. Jackson’s eyes darted wildly between his wife and the nurses and paused when he saw me come to his side. I felt eyes of the team members on me as they scurried to set up a second suction, sponges, and more.

“Mr. Jackson, we’re going to do everything we can to take good care of you, to keep you comfortable.” I did my best to assure him. I prayed he would not sense my lack of assurance and peace.

He blinked and nodded, even as I could see the suction container already almost filled with 250 cc of blood and rising rapidly.

“Mike, see who’s on call for head and neck. Have Lucy call and see if we can get a transfer downtown, if they can get an OR ready,” I directed. But I had a sinking feeling there would not be time for either a transfer or surgery.

Sarah, two more nurses, and a respiratory therapist worked on inserting intravenous lines, setting up a rapid blood infuser, and other resuscitative devices. The house supervisor and social worker guided the pale and near-hysterical wife to a quiet room down the hall, away from the ghastly scene.

Within minutes, our goal of fixing the bleeding switched to keeping Mr. Jackson as comfortable as we could.

This was not going to end well.

Mr. Jackson’s previous scans showed the tumor wrapped around his carotid artery, a dreadful but not unexpected end-stage neck cancer progression. The problem was, no one—neither his surgeon nor his oncologist—had prepared the patient for this. No one had prepared his wife. And not even the most stoic, seasoned team of caregivers can prepare themselves, let alone a patient, for bleeding to death.

Within the hour, Mr. Jackson succumbed. Afterwards, I spent over an hour with his wife, explaining what had happened and why we could not save him. By the time I returned to my station, I was a dozen patients behind, and I had a completely traumatized staff to lead as well.

As the next shift arrived, I gathered the team members who had worked on Mr. Jackson in an empty procedure room. As inadequate as I felt in that moment to provide encouragement, I knew if we didn’t process what had happened before we went home, we could all carry it with us and it would emerge, like so many unprocessed traumas, as anger or burnout or any other countless unhealthy coping mechanisms.

“First of all, that was awful.”

Two of the nurses wiped silent tears, permission finally freeing them.

“Let’s talk about it.”

We dialogued for over an hour, weeping together, venting about the injustice and unfairness of the situation, lamenting our inability to save him, embracing, acknowledging each other, affirming that we—each of us—had done all we could.

BREAKROOM BOOST

In this desperate situation, the medical staff did all they could, just as you have done in similar scenarios. They comforted Mr. Jackson. They comforted his wife. The work of their minds and the passion of their hearts and the touch of their hands filled this patient up even as his life blood ran dry. In this world we will have trouble and undeserved disease and death. But take heart, Jesus has overcome all this and more.

HANDWASHING PRAYER

Remind me that in times of trouble, my heart is yours, Lord. Thank you for being my help.

VITAL SIGNS

What were today’s fears, frustrations, and heartbreak?

EVIDENCE-BASED HOPE

What things are you grateful for and where have you seen God working this week?

From the Book: