Tough Weeks in Healthcare

The hospital where I work is a sole community provider, meaning that we are the only major hospital in this part of the state.  We have the highest level trauma center in the area and provide surgeries that the smaller and more rural medical centers can't offer.  We also have a highly diverse patient population in terms of culture, race, language, socioeconomic status, insurance, home setup, health status, etc.  On most days, I love that we are such an important part of the community.  We are the first name that people in Santa Fe turn to for healthcare, and we are involved in every major event in the community.  However, this also means that we play a role in all the tough stuff too -- major traumas and accidents, taking care of the prisoners and drunk drivers, and finding ourselves face to face with the people we read about in the newspaper.

Bad news doesn't just come in threes, but it definitely comes in bundles.  The past few weeks have been especially tough.  On Monday I saw a child who was in ICU on a ventilator after being attacked.  That same day I took care of a girl (I say "girl" because she is younger than me, despite the fact that she is actually a mother of 3) who was in a severe motorcycle accident in which her boyfriend was killed.  Neither were wearing helmets. Two doors down from her was the 45-year-old mother of 5 and grandmother of 5 on a ventilator for over a week as a result of complications from chronic alcoholism.  Yesterday my "relatively healthy" under-65-year-old patient became unresponsive while getting up with physical therapy for the first time after having knee surgery.  And these are just the people who lived to see another day.  I don't think I will ever get used to watching family members hold a patient's hand while he or she passes away, or seeing a body bag on a table and knowing the name of the person in it.  Last weekend a bicyclist was hit by a train crossing the intersection one block from my apartment.  This was the second person to be killed by the train this month.  And then there are the people (usually patients' family members) who are in denial about their loved one's prognosis and inevitable death.  They beg the medical team to do everything, they put their elderly family members through difficult procedures and extreme measures, and then point fingers and blame others when miracles don't occur, while their energy might be better allocated toward spending quality time with Grandma in her final days and preparing to say goodbye.

I don't think it ever gets easier to work in a hospital, and in a way I hope it doesn't because that would mean becoming complacent in working with sick and dying people and losing sight of treating each person as an individual.  As healthcare workers we need to treat every patient like they are the most important person to us at that moment, and go above and beyond to make their day brighter, despite how sad or frustrated we may be about our other patients or other aspects of our lives.  We need to get to know our patients as people and continue to remember them when they pass.  And we need to wake up again tomorrow and do it all over again.


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