I don’t know what else to do.
Here you are, lying in that hospital bed that you’ve been sitting in for five days now, totally aware of what is going on but unable to tell anyone what you’re thinking.
You can’t move your right arm or leg. You can’t swallow so you cough on your spit all the time.
Your brother and sister-in-law died within the last 8 months. They were your best friends.
Your wife of the last 35 years recently left you.
You were sinking deeper and deeper into a dark pit of depression, but put on a happy face for your few friends and what family you have left so they wouldn’t ask you questions. You just didn’t want to talk about it, because talking about it made it hurt. It hurt so, so bad. So you just pretended you were fine, but you really weren’t. It was like you were in a cold, dark room with no door, no window, no bed, no comfort, no escape. No one was there to pull you out because no one knew you were even there.
Even your dreams were drenched in sadness and somehow you were in an even deeper and darker room. There was no refuge.
And then you had a stroke that would change your life forever.
Not only can you not move the right side of your body; you can barely speak. You can only say 2-5 sentences at a time before you get tired and your speech becomes unintelligible.
You were once a proud, private man. Now you are completely dependent on this staff of 20 and 30 year-olds to clean up after you and turn you every two hours. You get frustrated because people can’t understand what you’re saying so you just don’t talk much. This was too much before it started.
The doctors breeze in and out, saying you’re doing well. What does “well” even mean at this point? Yes, your vital signs and labs are stable, you’re getting adequate nutrition and don’t have an infection. But they don’t stop to ask you how you’re doing. You couldn’t really tell them anyway even if they did…
You already told a nurse you wanted to die. You just want to give up.
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You break my heart. I don’t know what to do to cheer you up, to ease the pain. I know I can’t take it away, but I want to make it easier.
So I linger. I stay in your room as much as possible. I joke with you. I put the pictures of your family on the left side of your bed because you can no longer look right.
I ask you how you’re doing, and I wait for the answer.
I hold your hand when you reach for mine.
I wipe the tears away because you can’t reach your own face. I shed a few of my own because now I see a little glimpse of this terrible pain you’ve been walking through. And it hurts.
I tell you I’m sorry that you lost your family. I acknowledge how hard that must have been and continues to be. You mumble “thank you” through your slurred speech and quivering lip. I have a feeling you’re one of those “never cry” guys and you hate that this 20-something nurse is going there. But secretly you appreciate it.
I try to encourage you. I try to tell you that I’m proud of your progress and that it’ll get easier. You squeeze my hand a little tighter.
You start to speak more, but it’s getting harder to understand because you’re getting tired. You get upset that I can’t understand you. Now you’re getting angry. You throw my hand away from you. You roll your eyes. You grit your teeth. You close your eyes to end the interaction.
I step away from you and walk out of the room. I try to curb my feelings of frustration and personal insult, after trying to connect with you and getting behind on the 900 other things I had to do, just for you to get mad at me. But I immediately swallow my pride and frustration, because I can’t even imagine going through what you’re experiencing. I try to remind myself he’s not mad at me, he’s mad because he can’t talk.. he’s mad at the situation. I hope.
I go to check your chart to make sure they restarted your antidepressant. I put in a consult for our chaplain to see you daily to offer support. I call your son to touch base and let him know that while you’re doing well physically, you could really use some face time with loved ones.
I’ve done all I can think to do. I don’t know what else to do.
I hope it’s enough. I hope I didn’t make it worse. Although, I’ll probably never know because by the next time I work you’ll have transferred off of our unit. It’ll take a few weeks for you to blend into the abyss of former patients in my mind. For me to forget your name, but remember your room number and your pain.