97 victims

Most of us entered nursing to heal, to help, to try and save lives whenever we can. There are some people in our field that have joined for all the wrong reasons. One such person is Niel Högel.

I came across an NPR article (click to link to the story) about a German nurse that was serving a life sentence for two murders… They believe he may be responsible 97 more. NINETY SEVEN.

He said he did it for the thrill. He enjoyed the feeling of being the hero after resuscitating the patient. Unfortunately he wasn’t always successful. Patients lost their lives for a thrill.

As a nurse and former EMT, I will say providing care in the most critical time does give you an adrenaline rush. You get to a point of functioning on sheer instinct. That sense of accomplishment can really make your day. However, I have never craved that feeling so much that I thought of harming a patient to achieve it. I don’t know what brings someone to that point. When reading his story I wondered, did he become a nurse to pseudo-save lives or did this need develop as his career progressed? Were there warning signs in his outside life? Were there warning signs at the bedside? How many lives could have been saved? I just can’t wrap my head around it.

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Consent and ethics

Nursing is fully aware of consent. We know that we need to have documentation that the patient accepts this treatment. It’s a no brainer. But, what if the patient doesn’t want treatment and the power of attorney does?

Prime example, you have an elderly patient that is obviously letting the family talk them into surgery. To no one’s surprise, it doesn’t go well. They end up sick. They have to remain intubated. They need an art line, central line, pressors, the works. Even on the ventilator they are adamantly shaking their head no to all the things you’re trying to do. They are fighting. They keep trying to pull away. They don’t want this.

Their family does.

The POA is who the doctors decide to ask for consent to treat. They completely bypass the patient. They’re intubated, they can’t answer for themselves right? If course the family wants everything done… So, everything is done. Is that fair to the patient?

Shouldn’t the patient be allowed to say no without having someone else choose otherwise? What is the fine line that decides when a patient no longer has the capacity to make their own decisions? Does intubation automatically take away that right? Does having a POA take away that right? If a patient is clearly communicating, even in the vent, shouldn’t we respect their wishes?

The nurse in me says yes. The nurse in me says to respect my patient’s dignity.

The nurse that’s been at the bedside for almost 8 years knows that that is normally not the case.

I have seen advanced directives ignored because the patient is unconscious and the family isn’t ready to let go. I’ve seen cases like the one mentioned above. I’ve seen doctors watch as the family is almost forcing a patient to go along with treatment and the doc just goes along with it as well. I’ve had to be a part of “moral distress” meetings because nurses were stressed over the ethical dilemmas involved in certain cases. When do we stop?

Forever alone

Sometimes I feel “forever alone” when I am around non-nursing people. As a nurse I get to be a part of something amazing. I’ll always be proud I am a nurse. I don’t feel like my profession makes me better than anyone else. I do feel like my profession changed me.

I have seen death first hand.

I have had to hold back tears while a family kisses their 16 year old goodbye. I have watched a person suffer in the ICU because the family guilted them into remainding a full code, and endure multiple surgeries that ultimately wouldn’t fix anything, until they finally passed away in that bed. I have watched families lose hope as the transplanted organ fails. I have had to comfort patients after a devastating diagnosis.

I have had my ass handed to me at work.

I have worked 12 straight hours without being able to eat or even stop to pee. I have dealt with physical and emotional abuse at the hands of patients and their loved ones. I have been talked down to by medical professionals that feel they are above me thanks to a difference in degrees.

I hold it all in when I’m with family and non nursing friends. When people say my job is “easy” since I work nights and everyone is asleep, I just laugh. When people are certain I’m “paid” because nurses make “so much money”, I just stare blankly. I listen to people complain about their jobs intently while they dismiss my complaints because I knew nursing was hard.

It can make you feel alone.

It’s not all family members and not all non-nursing friends but enough to make me not talk about my job unless I am talking to a select few. It’s why the nursing community is so INVALUABLE to me. We can swap stories about the worst of the worst. We can laugh about some seriously dark sh*t with no judgment! We understand each other. The nursing community keeps me from feeling “forever alone”. Sometimes we are all we’ve got 😁!

Bad news

Yay, she is eating more today!

(We have some bad news)

She managed to walk from the room to the nurses’ station!

(We have some bad news)

Her labs look a whole lot better today. I think the bleeding has stopped.

(We have some bad news)

I think we may be able to move her out of the ICU today.

(We have some bad news)

She looks like she might be able to be discharged today!

(We have some bad news)

The cervical cancer is back. It’s stage four and its’ metastasized to the liver. There is nothing we can do. We can give her palliative chemo which may give her another 3-6 months or she can go palliative.

She chose to go palliative. She came home and passed away months later in her bed. I was 16. She was 41. She was my mother. October 18th will make 18 years since she passed away. It still hurts just as bad now as it did then. Fuck cancer. Fuck how it destroys people. Fuck how it destroys families. Fuck the pain it causes people. Fuck how it attacks old and young. Fuck cancer.

 

DNR vs Comfort Care

I have heard DNR and comfort care used interchangeably, especially by doctors. One is not the other!

DNR: Do not resuscitate. It is exactly what it says, you do not try life-saving measures in the event of a code situation. This does not imply that you stop caring for a patient. DNR does not mean “do not treat”! You will continue to provide patient care. You will hang medications for their blood pressure if it is dangerously low. You will more than likely continue to draw labs as well. You will still treat this patient pretty much like any other unless the patient, or their medical POA (power of attorney), tells you otherwise. One thing you must be aware of is whether or not the patient has exceptions to their DNR. Some may say that in the event of a code they want code medications but no chest compressions or intubation. Some people may say meds and intubation are fine but no chest compressions. I have even seen meds and compressions but no intubation (which leaves you wondering but hey, it’s what they want.)

Comfort Care: This is what most people think a DNR is. Just keep them comfortable until they pass on their own. At this point, you are no longer going to escalate care. In fact, you will more than likely begin to scale back dramatically the amount of care you provide. Typically the only medications you will give will be pain medications like morphine and maybe a few breathing treatments to help ease their work of breathing. For the most part, you are there as support for the family if needed, and to assure that your patient dies with dignity.

Please, for the sake of your patient, understand the difference. If you need to clarify with the patient or POA then do so. You don’t want to wait until the patient is near death to try and figure out what the patient actually wants.

Story time no. 3

You ever have a patient situation hit you hard? It’s happening to me tonight. 

We have a patient going down to OR for organ harvesting. The patient had a severe fall with non survivable injuries. The family had the heart, the soul, the strength to say yes to organ donation despite the sudden death of their loved one. 

It’s hard to watch. It’s hard to see the children say their last goodbye’s. It’s hard to see their tears. It’s hard to listen to them thanking us profusely when we should be thanking them. It’s hard knowing that this is the last time they will see their loved one, connected to IV’s and intubated. It’s just painful. 

I know that this patient will bless someone else’s life. They aren’t dying in vain. I just wish they weren’t dying at all… 

The end isn’t always the end

I learned a lesson not too long ago. The end is not always the end. I got to see this first hand more than once.

A few months ago we had a trauma, pedestrian-vs-motor vehicle, that came to our unit with severe head trauma. The patient had a head bleed along with swelling. The CT scans did not look good. The MRI didn’t look any better. The patient and family were refugees from a war torn country, they spoke little English. The team began having “the talk” with his family. You know that talk, the one where they are pushing for the DNR because the patient is not expected to have any quality of life. Yeah, that talk.

The family would have none of it. We managed to stabilize the patient. They got the standard trach/peg combo. The doctors continued to speak with the family about the quality of life and the family continued to hold out hope. The patient ultimately managed to be transferred out of the hospital into a long term care facility. We were pretty much under the impression that they would just waste away in a nursing home, with no improvement in neuro status.

The patient came back to visit us, along with the family. The patient still has noticeable deficits but was able to fully communicate and even thanked us for our care. We had given up but they didn’t.

dont give up

More recently, our unit had a very sick vascular patient that coded during their surgery. The OR team got them back and immediately brought them to our unit (STICU). They coded again, the second code was worked for an extended period of time and then the team called it. They died. And then they decided death wasn’t really for them and their heart started beating again… spontaneously… after the code was called… while the team were having a moment of silence for the patient.

The medical team spoke with the family and let them know that even though the heart is beating, the patient has been “down” for an extended period of time and neurologically there is probably nothing there. The family decides it’s in the patient’s best interest to make the patient a DNR. The family begins saying their goodbyes and leave in expectation that the patient would probably code again within the next few days. Everyone is pretty much preparing for this patient’s end of life…

gointothelight

Except the patient…

That night, they opened their eyes to painful stimuli. Then it turned into opening eyes to name but no purposeful movement by the next day. By the third day or so they just woke the fuck up and tried to self extubate! All of us were pretty much like:

heart attack

They were completely alert, oriented, and by the end of the shift able to write questions on a piece of paper. Needless to say we were all kinds of confused, surprised, and impressed. We ended up nicknaming the patient “Lazarus”. Are we going to Hell? Yes. We are all well aware. I have a time share there.

The patient had a rough course. They were intubated, extubated, and reintubated multiple times before finally being trached and pegged. However, as I am typing this they are alive and are being prepped for long term acute care out on the floor. That’s right, the patient that we basically pronounced dead is instead going to LTACH soon.

These moments have taught me that it is not over until the patient decides it’s over. It has also taught me that maybe I shouldn’t give up so easily. My miracle patients are showing me there are still some things that we in medicine don’t understand. We don’t know it all. I am glad for that.