“So what does that mean?” is the question I always get asked after I tell people what is that I do. Without going into too much details, my job is to observe and correct any actions and practices that might cause patients to get an infection during their hospital stay. I’m on my feet for the majority of the day and my eyes and ears are wide open all the time.
It never stops. I am the typical bystander.
The fact that I’m always observing makes for a good opportunity to become part of the stories and experiences of other people- I’m always on the outside looking in. It also so happens to be that on my very second day on the job, I got assigned to cover the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and almost two years later, I’m still there.
This is no Grey’s Anatomy and no ER or any of those TV shows that portray hospitals because the truth couldn’t be far from it.
I am actually surprised and how calm things can be despite the life and death situation.
To give you an example: on my very first day covering ICU, the orderlies were wheeling out the corpse of a deceased patient to the morgue. I lowered my gaze and took a deep breath, saying a prayer.
This scene is one I keep encountering at work, one that leaves me in a not so positive awe.
Just yesterday in fact, I had the unfortunate luck of witnessing a rather young patient going into cardiac arrest. He had been in a critical state for a month so it was a matter of time before he were to pass on.
It happened without a warning.
There were no bells, no whistles, no screaming, no rushing. One nurse had been inside the room administering medications while another was monitoring the dialysis machine. I looked down at my notes, continuing the review I was doing, then when I looked back up, found that the number of people in the room had increased.
The whole unit was fairly quiet, the usual, except for a few people who were laughing about who was to go in and pump.
Laughing. A joke.
But it was nowhere near the chaos one would expect in such a situation. They were even laughing about the fact that they were so close to telling the family about the bad news when it hadn’t come yet.
A few minutes after all the needed procedures were done, the patient had seemed to stabilize. But it would not stay for long. Once again, I looked away and it had restarted.
The rush was a bit more pronounced this time because the physicians had come in and were shouting orders left and right. One minute they were yelling, “pumping” and the next “don’t pump, give X, Y” and then it just stopped. In the same way it started.
I couldn’t tell what had happened until I had to ask one of the nurses. At that point, they were preparing the sheets and the tape to cover the patient, the tell-tale sign.
In a matter of minutes, everyone else had moved onto their other patients: medications were being given, assessments were being made, rooms were being cleaned, and rounds were in their midst with no more thoughts being given to the patient that had just passed.
And I moved on, to other units and floors- to see the other patients and how I could help them remain infection-free. I didn’t even stay to see how the family would react to the horrible news.
I came back to the ICU a few hours later, with several test tubes and cotton swabs to take samples from the room, from the same bed this person had been in a few hours earlier, from the same equipment that had kept him afloat since his admission.
Dwelling on the dead gets you nowhere in our setting- something I haven’t learned easily.