“Fine. It’s fine. Everything is fine. “
It wasn’t, of course. The patient had just died. The nurse who said things were fine and I had watched the chest compressions, watched them stop, watched the rest of the team walk away. And now she and I and a couple other people were taking care of the paperwork, taking care of the family, taking care of each other.
The vocal inflection on the word “fine” was fierce and sarcastic, making clear that things were not, in fact, fine.
She was right.
Nurses working on the medical intensive care unit (MICU) have had a grueling two years.
Through the window of one of those rooms I saw a nurse put a phone in a plastic bag to allow a wife home with COVID have a last glimpse of her husband, dying with COVID. It was early. There would be many such deaths on that unit.
On a conference call one evening, a nurse and I talked with a daughter and son and friend. After explaining that the man had died, after hearing the grief they shared between them, I said, “I know that you wish you were here. I do, too. He didn’t die alone. This nurse was with him all the way to the end, holding his hand.”
Chaplains always responded, but nurses and respiratory therapists were always in the rooms. They did everything right, they gave their best care and their breaking hearts. They were often reminded that their care could not fix this. And it was hard.
It’s hard for the nurses in NICU who give their hearts to tiny babies. For the nurses in supportive care who give comfort all the way to the end. For the nurses in ER.
It’s Nurses Week in MICU and all the other units, clinics, community outreach sites, hospices, schools, and more. For me, most shifts are Nurses Week. Humans with their own challenging stories who help people during really hard chapters. I’m grateful to watch and cheer, and sometimes, to weep.
I saw my coworker the other day. “It’s fine,” she said as she came up the hall after a quick lunch. We laughed. It was more fine than usual.