Do We Hear and Do We DO Anything?


Here is a blog post I found while looking through old files from 2013.  Enjoy.  

A Critical Care Nurse is tasked with lifesaving abilities, instant critical thinking, constant alarms, alerts and the pressure of attending to the unrelenting needs of patients, families, and colleagues.  So remembering to insert joy in our day seems like it might remain at the bottom of our ‘to do’ list.

I recall one stressful day.  Half of my assignment- a long term, ventilated, trached, tube-fed, unresponsive gentleman, hospitalized for weeks.  During shift change, a colleague remarked, “It appears he doesn’t hear or do anything.”

Interesting,” I thought to myself.

In my assessment I noticed my patient was unshaven, unkempt and disheveled, and had an unopened Passé Muir valve on his vent.  And I admit, I agreed with my colleague- he did not appear to ‘hear or do anything.’

I proceeded to bathe and shave him, all the while chit chatting with him, explaining what I was doing, and what the weather was like outside.  I shared anecdotes about my cats’ crazy escapades that morning, and told him my favorite joke- one about an orange that stopped in the middle of the road.   I even had a couple colleagues come behind the curtain asking me what the ruckus was.  I just smiled and told them we were having fun.  He never once responded, never made eye contact or even smiled at my goofy stories.  A few times I wondered if it was worth all the fuss.

I learned his wife was coming to visit, so I sat him up in an assisted chair and opened the Passé Muir valve.  Working with the respiratory therapist, we put on the valve and assessed our work- just a blank stare, no acknowledgment, and no sound except the ventilator kicking in his breath.

His wife arrived and exclaimed, “John!  You look so handsome!”  She ran to her husband of 40 years and gently kissed him on his lips, he blinked and his eyes opened brightly.   And with an airy, raspy and stuttered voice he said, “Joan, why did the orange stop in the middle of the road?  Because he ran out of juice!”  His crooked, joyful smile was ALIVE!

I felt my heart skip a beat, my skin chill and my breath catch.  In this precious moment I realized I had helped create joy and hope.  I learned that it IS worth all the fuss.  All the loving care we provide, all the moments we stop to listen and to see what our patients’ need- it all matters.  A genuine nurse sharing a flash of time, an authentic expression, a thoughtful touch or a goofy joke, can help patients access their personal joy and hope, even if they ‘don’t hear or do anything’.

As nurses, we really do hear and because of that, we do so much!