“Tell me how you feel”. A very common question every nurse asks every patient. Each time we go on duty we shift into auto mode. Suddenly, it becomes our business to know what is going on in our patient’s lives and what may have precipitated their illness.
We leave our emotional baggage at the doorstep and we assume that there would be a person coming in who is in much bigger trouble and in much deeper pain than what we are in–our patients. We took an oath to take care of them and even underwent training just to therapeutically communicate with them. We ease their pain. We help to somehow lighten up the burden, and make things easier for a complete stranger. We give all of these efforts sometimes at the expense of our own pain.
December 27, 2012, I was a charge nurse in the ICU when the phone rang. “We have a new admission,” hanging up as I told my partner Glen, a soft-spoken 25-year-old male RN, three years my junior. We’ve been working together for almost four years and it’s the first time that we have worked on the same shift for three consecutive days.
“We have a 65-year-old female who came in the ED due to chest pains, according to the endorsement she was a previous ICU patient–Mrs. Castro. Ring a bell?” I asked Glen.
“Yeah, I think she was our patient last year, that one whose husband would never leave the bedside. She was discharged and her condition improved. She had an MI,” he replied.
“By the way Glen, what’s wrong with you lately?” diverting the topic to him while waiting for the patient’s arrival. “I’ve checked your nurse’s notes and your handwriting…they’re so tiny! It should be illegal! How are we suppose to read them?” feigning anger knowing a little “bullying” from friends wouldn’t hurt. “If not for the admission, I’d ask you to rewrite them, like right now!” Glen just chuckled in response.
Mrs. Castro came in and cut our conversation short. I was carrying out orders while he kept busy at Mrs. Castro’s bedside. From time to time he would ask her if she feels any pain. It was a rather unmemorable shift. Everything went so typically. Over a hurried lunch, we talked about his New Year plans. He told me he is planning on a surprise for his mother.
When our shift ended, I attempted to be funny and told him, “Finally! Glen, I could get a day off from you. I am so looking forward to working with you…next year? Err… That’s in a few days. Ugh! Don’t forget that I’d get a share of your mom’s surprise ok? (presuming it would be food)…And don’t forget to rewrite your notes! I’ll go ahead, Goodbye!” I left without even waiting for his reply. I heard a faint goodbye but I was such in a hurry to leave.
I came back to work two days later. According to the endorsement, Mrs. Castro was deteriorating. The cardiologist came just in time for the code. While doing the CPR, I could see a flash of Glen’s face on my patient. I was holding back my tears. I was as desperate as Mrs. Castro’ husband to bring his wife back to life. Again, Glen’s face kept on flashing in my mind…everywhere. Until he faded slowly. The doctor pronounced Mrs. Castro dead at 3:00 pm secondary to cardiopulmonary arrest.
Tears fell down my face. Mrs. Castro’s daughter who saw me cry probably thought I was crying for Mrs. Castro. Partly I was, but my colleagues, however, knew better.
Twenty-four hours before Mrs. Castro’s death, I received a text message from Glen saying:
MY BROTHER HANGED HIMSELF.
There was a dark cloud of confusion and I remember feeling dizzy. I mustered the courage to him that call button hoping Glen would answer and it was just a bad prank. But all I can hear on the other line was a crying female voice. It was his sister, his only sibling.
Glen hanged himself… to his sweet death. In a state of denial, I told his sister to take him to the ICU….but all I can hear from the other line were sharp shrills of agony. I could not forget that phone call forever. It haunts me since.
That same afternoon, a few miles away from me, Glen was rushed to the ED and was confirmed DOA at 3 pm.
Until this day, I wish I should’ve talked to him. I should’ve been there. I wish I was able to perform CPR and actually revived him like what we are doing to our patients. I wish I was able to ask him “Tell me how you feel”.
I wish he told me.