When they tell you there are many specialties in medicine, it’s true. I’m an oncology nurse. I take care of people with cancer. I know very little about laboring mothers or tracheostomies or cardiac stents.
That shift I was on an orthopedic floor for only the second time in my nursing career. I was out of my element but I made it to the end of my shift. I decided to quickly round once more to make sure all my patients were alive for the next crew of nurses to look after. They were fine, except him.
Sundowners is a term used to describe people who get confused at bedtime. It’s common among the elderly population and when you throw in drugs and a strange setting (the hospital), it can really get out of hand. He was sundowning. And this would have been fine except he had just come from the ICU and had lots of tubes: oxygen, urinary catheter, wound drain, IV, and, worst of all, a Swan-Ganz catheter. They should have pulled it prior to him leaving the ICU. I mean, it was this HUGE tube coming out of his neck and went all the way through the right side of his heart into his pulmonary artery.
“Mr. Smith*! Wait don’t touch that,” I pleaded as he began picking at all the tubes entering and exiting his body, growing increasingly agitated. I hit the call light, hoping a staff member would poke their head in.
He mumbled and as I bent my head closer, it was clear he was no where near this hospital. He had been transported back in time to hunting German subs during WWII. Violently he started from the bed, straining at all the plastic parts.
“Please, Mr. Smith!” I grabbed his groping hand. He shook me off and removed the oxygen. Where the hell is my backup? “Mr. Smith, you’re in the hospital and I’m you nurse, Noël. Remember?” He continued to pick at things and turned violently away from me, tugging his urinary catheter across the bed. How does that not stop him? Ouch! “Mr. Smith, I need you to turn back to your back.”
“They’re coming! Have to let them know…” he practically shouted as he slapped my hand away.
Where is my godd*mn backup? I pulled the call light out of the wall, sounding the alarm. He whirled the other way suddenly, spry for an old man in a hospital bed. All the lines pulled the opposite direction and time seemed to slow as I saw him groping for the large piece of plastic sticking out of his neck. If he pulled it… Without thinking I grabbed his wrists, pushed them down by his side and practically threw myself on top of him. “Mr. Smith,” I breathed, calmly as possible, “It’s okay. The Germans won’t get us. It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay. You’re alright, you’re safe here.”
And that’s how the charge nurse found us.
And that’s how, at the ripe old age of 23, I found myself with a back injury that continues to plague me. But he didn’t pull that Swan-Ganz out and bleed to death which, in my eyes, is a small price to pay.
*name changed for privacy