Monday, November 11, 2013

Trauma Nurses Rock

I don’t have any photos of the trauma nurses who helped me at University of Maryland. And I apologize, but I don’t remember their all their names. (Of course, I barely remembered my own name while hospitalized.) But I think it’s necessary for me to write a separate blog about them.
     First, let me tell you that the quality of care I received was mind-boggling. The R Cowley Adams Shock Trauma Unit at University of Maryland Medical Center is an amazing place. The paragraph below comes from the university’s website, and you can read more by clicking on this link:
       “The first trauma center of its kind in the United States, Shock Trauma is an international model for civilian and military teams, and remains the epicenter for trauma research, patient care, and teaching, both nationally and internationally today.  Shock Trauma is where the ‘golden hour’ concept of trauma was born and where many of the life-saving practices in modern trauma medicine were pioneered.”
           My surgeons were the best to be found anywhere. The technology was cutting-edge. But it was the trauma nurses who were on the front lines with me, night and day. They were smart, fast, calm, and highly skilled. These nurses were the most astounding examples of the outer limits of human multi-tasking I’ve ever seen.
          These girls rocked.
           I don’t use the word “girls” in a condescending fashion. I’m a writer and I try to paint a picture for my readers, and you need to know that most of the brilliant and dedicated nurses who took care of me were young, like below-thirty kind of young. There were a few exceptions – such as the middle-aged night nurse I would come to loathe for her bad perfume and liberal use of the light switch. But the point is, I remember being amazed at how hard every one of these nurses worked.
All told, I spent well over two months in the care of nurses at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. It just so happened that I was there at an exceptionally crazy time. During the winter of 2011-2012, the place was stuffed to the gills with patients. Hallways were crowded with carts and machinery, doctors, nurses, technicians, and aides. I remember it was always tricky when orderlies tried to maneuver my hospital bed from my patient room to the operating room. Sometimes we banged into stuff. To me, the place had the feel of a two-bedroom house for a family of ten.
That’s because I was a patient in the old trauma unit while the new Shock Trauma tower was under construction. I didn’t know it at the time, but the old unit was designed to serve about 3,500 patients annually but was handling more than double that number. That explains why some of the logistics of patient care were problematic.
For example, when the glorious day came that my kidneys began to work without a catheter and I was strong enough to use a bedside commode, no one could find one for me. There weren’t enough to go around. So I was thrilled when an aide eventually tracked one down. The happiness was brief. As we soon discovered, the commode wasn’t being used by anyone because it had been Gerry rigged with a collection pail from one model and a seat from another. When the pail detached from the seat in mid-stream, the aide put her fists on her hips, shook her head, and said, “Oh, hell no.”
Whenever nurses would talk about the new $160 million facility under construction, a dreamy, far-away expression of bliss would settle upon their faces – kind of like how romance writers look when they speak of Hugh Jackman. The nurses would murmur about bigger rooms designed for modern technology and the promise of much-needed working space for staff. Yet, even in the crowded craziness of the old Shock Trauma Unit, the nurses held it down. They managed to juggle my complicated case with precision and caring, even in a less-than-perfect setting.
The nurses on my floor seemed to run a lot. From my little cave without a clear view of the action, I would hear their sneakers squeak as they raced up and down the hallway on their way to another life-and-death situation. When they would swoop in to check my vital signs or fix my IV line, they worked with speed and exactness while managing to be sweet and kind. I was amused when I saw how my nurses abbreviated almost everything. It was as if they were so busy they didn’t have time for extra syllables. For example, when my magnesium levels were too low and I had to have the mineral delivered via IV, the nurse hooked me up to a bag of “mag.”  Gabapentin, the medication I received for phantom limb pain, was shortened to “gaba.” The wound vacuum system that perpetually drained my amputation site was simply the “vac.”
These fast-moving, quick-thinking angels of mercy were awesome and I owe them my life.  
            Now, allow me to tell you about my Night Nurse Nemesis. She was a perfectly capable professional, but whenever I'd find out she was scheduled to be my nurse I’d roll my eyes and groan because I knew exactly what was in store for me. We just didn't get along. We were like Seinfeld and Newman. I didn’t like her style.
            My other night nurses would quietly slip in and turn on an indirect light to take my vital signs, examine me, or distribute medication while I continued to rest. Not this chick. She invaded my room like DEA agents busting into a meth lab. 
Do I sound cranky? Well, I was. I was exhausted and needed sleep, which was a real trick on the Shock Trauma Unit, with its alarms beeping, doors slamming, and conversations going on at all hours. I had this thing about my door being left open while I was trying to sleep. I even had my best friend, Arleen, make a sign to tape to my door that said in big black magic-marker letters: "PLEASE KEEP DOOR CLOSED."
Night Nurse Nemesis didn't have time for no stinkin' signs. She’d slam open my door at three a.m., flip on the searchlights, and announce that she had arrived and had important stuff to do.  Then she'd proceed to talk non-stop and make lots of extra noise banging shit around in the room. Eventually, she would sashay away, crop-dusting my room with her cheap-ass perfume on her way out, leaving all the lights on and my door wide open. When I'd call after her she wouldn't hear me. 
            Cranky. Like I said.
            Even as a kid I had a well-developed survival instinct. So when I first woke up in the Shock Trauma Unit and realized how sick and helpless I was, I got the lay of the land real quick. It was easy to see that the trauma nurses -- and their hardworking aides -- were my lifelines. I was utterly dependent on them, and I made a point of telling them how much I appreciated all the things they did for me, every day.       
            This blog is another way of saying thank you. Even to my Night Nurse Nemesis. 

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