It's one thing if your patient is super critical and intubated, and you're busy with them the whole night. Then, the night just flies by.
But when you're there, one on one, to make sure they don't hurt themselves, or fall out of bed, or pull off all their dressings and go running down the hall...those nights can get long.
You treat emotionally needy people all the time as a nurse. And usually its easy to set boundaries, because you've got things to do, other patients to see. But not when it's a one on one, over night.
So you sit there, and of course, you talk. You can't not talk when someone talks to you. It'd be creepy, seeing as you're sitting in their room, and just plain rude. So you're nice -- which makes some of our more boorish patients flirt with you, because whyever would someone in a uniform being paid to sit there who is a female be nice to you unless they were interested in you? (she asks, ironically.) -- and ask some questions, about what happened, and where they've been...and it all just spills out.
A lot of our patients are so needy, so excited to have company, have someone listen, it breaks your heart.
I have had patients tell me such amazing, heartbreaking things. That they think their stepfather killed their mother. About when they were raped. When other people spit on them. All the times they were ever beat up.
What do you do with all that? Where does it go? It's hard to hear. I'm a do-er, not a listener. Tell me to tear down a mountain, and I'll start hauling away rocks with my bare hands. Give me a patient that's been so emotionally damaged by the events in their lives that they've turned to drinking and drugs or vice versa, and I feel very ill at ease with my inability help. Fever, I can fight. Emotional alienation, deserved or un? I'm lost.
So I just be nice. That's all you can really do. Sometimes I'm shitty at it. Sometimes, shamefully, they know. Sometimes, sadly, they know, and they still don't care, they're so happy just to have someone in the room with them that even though they know I'm pretending to care they're still thrilled.
You be nice, and you care in a professional way, but you try not to care too much, because you know what life has in store for them outside. You don't want to be emotionally invested in that. All you have is here, and now, and your 12 hours to treat them like they're human and hope that they agree. Because you're not going to cure anyone of a lifetime of addiction in those 12 hours, or steer away the juggernaut of depression. No advice is going to take. All you can do is treat them like they're human, like they count. When nursing isn't the pills or the science, the only things you really have to offer are an open ear, and a soft heart.