I am a Trauma Nurse and I think something is wrong with me.
Lately, I wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes to go to the bathroom, but mostly just because I can’t sleep. Tears flow very easily these days when I hear a touching story on a podcast, witness tender moments on television, or expose myself to the world tragedies broadcast on the evening news. Eventually, it stops. Eventually.
I don’t know when I got to be so sensitive. Or perhaps I have been sensitive this whole time.
Other things in my life seem normal like eating, drinking, and socializing with friends and family. I find ways to have fun and connect with the people I love. It makes me feel almost normal.
But then the sadness strikes when I am alone, or even just feeling alone around other people.
Can it be that my return to working in surgical trauma has reminded me of how heartbreaking this world can be?
I have been in operating room nursing for 13 years with over half of those spent at a Level I Trauma Center. I can’t remember feeling this way. I can’t remember crying like this. There is a distinct possibility that I have done what I usually do: compartmentalize my feelings until I am ready to confront them.
And so here I am. Dealing with This. Now.
The emotions emerged after caring for a trauma patient. He was a gunshot wound victim. Just a kid barely in his teens. The entire surgical team worked together to save his life. We really tried. We did everything humanly possible that we could do. Everything. We tried everything. He didn’t make it.
His life ended in front of our eyes.
And he was just a kid.
I have been an operating room nurse for 13 years with over half spent in trauma and that was the first time I ever had a patient pass away on my watch.
It was the first time I had to clean the body of my patient, a victim of gun violence, and make him presentable so that his family could view him. My friend, another trauma nurse, had to show me how to do it. With tenderness and compassion, the two of us wiped away blood and betadine prep solution from his torso. She gently cleaned his baby face, covered him in a fresh green gown and blankets, then positioned his hands so he looked like he was sleeping. The learning continued as she walked me through the finer points of hiding the body bag under his body with some bedsheets because how terrible would it be for his family to see that.
How terrible it felt to do all this…
We waited and hoped his family was somewhere in the hospital. We hoped that they would get to see him before his body was sent to the morgue.
But they weren’t there.
And so, for the first time, I closed the body bag of a teenage boy who died of a gunshot wound. And, with my friends, helped move him onto the unpadded, cold, steel-framed morgue cart.
This night… I want to forget.