Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thank you, Nurse Jane

He did not know he was lifeless. He did not remember that he’d cooked a salmon dinner for his wife and nephew and then mowed the grass. He did not remember the chest pain. My brother just dropped. Just black -- like The Sopranos finale. No white lights of heaven or evil red imps escorting him to eternal flames.

Instead, his wife took charge. She called 911 and pumped his chest. A few minutes later, the paramedics arrived and continued pumping, defibrillating and radioing the hospital for guidance, because nothing worked. Sixty minutes later -- ONE HOUR OF CHEST PUMPS LATER -- the paramedics’ “last-ditch” gambit worked, and they hurried the body out of the suburban bedroom, down the carpeted stairs, and off to the hospital.

People who suffer out of hospital cardiac arrests usually die. Medical journals report survival rates of less than 1 in 10. And what is the quality of life if they live? The brain voraciously consumes oxygen, seizing 15 to 20% of what the lungs provide, even though the brain is only about 3% of total body mass. When my wife called, she was cagey. I was out of town questioning evasive jerks all day, so I put it to her directly, “Are you telling me that he is either going to die or be gorked?” “Yes,” she admitted.

Long story short: brother Ken survived without any anoxic brain injury that I detect. I want to share something one of the many things I thought about during the two weeks between my brother’s near death and his return home.

Nurse Jane works in Cardiac ICU. If statistics hold, then most of her patients do not leave the hospital alive. I raised that concept with her. She simply said that the folks in Cardiac ICU do the best they can.

Her answer was unduly modest.

Here’s the real question for all of us and how Jane answered it with her actions, not her words.

Question: If the odds were pretty good that you’d be the last person on Earth that someone would see, how would you behave?

What first struck me was that Jane wore make up, even though she worked her 12-hour shift helping an unconscious man on life support. When he showed some awakening, days later, Jane was a calming presence with her soothing voice and pleasant face framed by pretty blonde hair. Perhaps she put on her face because of self-respect. However, I believe it was to respect the people she serves.

At my prompting, Jane revealed her faith in God and her interest in learning Hebrew, so she could comprehend earlier versions of the Bible. With Jane’s scrubbed and conservative appearance, one would not imagine her in a tattoo parlor. Yet, there on her wrists were tattoos. They looked like Hebrew. “Yahweh,” she answered. Jane’s hands and wrists masterfully operated those 13 drips running into my brother. The hands of God, indeed.

Some people urge, “Live like there’s no tomorrow!” Jane got me thinking that maybe we should treat people like THEY have no tomorrow, and offer them the kindness and warmth we normally reserve for our dearest family and friends. Thank you, Jane (and each & every other caregiver).

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