Dear families: We are strong, but we are tired

After 33 years as an ICU RN, I had finally decided I couldn’t do this anymore. It was my last nightshift. The last shift convinced me I had made the right decision.

The CNA and I went door to door to turn each ICU patient that was not capable of turning themselves.

ICU-06:  Mrs. Thelma was 86 years old. She laid in her bed, slightly restless. Restrained. On a ventilator. NG tube for tube feedings. Levophed drip for low blood pressure. Mrs. Thelma was not able to turn herself.

The CNA and I knocked on the patient’s door. Her son was asleep on the side bed provided for families. Her son woke up.

“What do you want? Why are you waking me up?”

We explained that we had to turn his mother.

His poor gray-haired mother. Attempting to extubate herself. Attempting to pull out her NG tube. Too weak to turn herself. Restrained to prevent her from extubating herself and pulling her NG tube out.

The family wanted everything done.

We turned and repositioned Mrs. Thelma. We cleaned up the bowel movement in the bed and changed her sheets. I gave her a small amount of morphine for comfort.

I held her hand and silently apologized to her.

I was sorry her family was not rational.

I was sorry her family thought she’d live forever.

I was sorry that they were the reason she suffered so.

There was a family conference. The ICU MD explained she was going through multi-system organ failure. She’s 86 years old.

That they could allow her to die peacefully.

But they wanted everything done.

And so we did—painful day after painful day.

Every 2 hours, we had to turn and reposition her, or decubitus ulcers would set in. Suction her mouth and ETT, rub her back. Clean her body. Her eyes were hazy—a living hell.

We left the room after we tucked her in.

The son announced: “Don’t wake me up again.”

I prayed for a peaceful death for Mrs. Thelma, but not this way.

My last night, clocking out to people who refuse to allow their loved ones to die peacefully.

I tried. I educated. Many refused.

I could no longer deal with the torment that lies in the ICU.

To family members: We do the best we can. We are not your servants. We are not your waitress/waiter. We are caregivers. Professionally educated to treat your sick loved ones.

Please work with us.

We are strong, but we are tired.

Respect and empower.

Debbie Moore-Black is a nurse who blogs at Do Not Resuscitate.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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