I have a cold. No doubt from puttering around the ICU trying to learn something without getting too overwhelmed. I’m tired. I would have much rather slept in and spent a lazy Sunday in my jammies than wake up at 5:30 with my eyes crusted shut and a kleenex still up my nose from when I woke up and tried to extract mucus from my erythematous, swollen sinuses at 1 am.
I walked around the hospital this morning seeing my patients, trying not to cough in their rooms- feeling like I was sicker than most of them on the general medical floor.
“Why don’t they all just go home so I can go home?” I thought.
I’ve heard people refer to “compassion fatigue” in the medical field. Where you get so tired of feeling sorry for everyone and wishing you could help, that you pretty much stop feeling anything for anyone, no matter how sad their story. I feel like I was there this morning.
I was selfish. I wanted to cough and blow my nose all over anything I could and then run home and sleep. I wanted hot tea and to watch You’ve Got Mail and I didn’t want to learn or see patients or offer any kind of sympathy to anyone.
And then I watched a procedure on a young man dying of AIDS. He said he was scared multiple times before and during the procedure. I didn’t say much then and neither did anyone else. Honestly, I was too busy stifling my coughs so that I didn’t break sterile field.
After though, I was watching his vitals and I told him what a great job he did holding still.
“I’m cold” he said. I started fidgeting with his blankets to cover him up completely.
I wish I was making this next part up.
“My nurse wouldn’t bring me a warm blanket.” he said
“Did she say why?” I asked.
“She said maybe if I covered all the way up I wouldn’t be as cold. She’s mean. She wouldn’t turn off my light either even though I asked her six times.”
There are a million reasons- told and untold- why his nurse may not have gotten him warm blanket. I don’t even know who it was. She may in fact be mean. She may have an even sicker patient next door. He may or may not be whiniest, most annoying patient on the floor. But this story is not about that.
There are so little things I can do at this point as a third year medical student. So few ways I can help my team, and even fewer ways to make an actual difference in patient care.
But in that moment, I realized how much I care. How much more I have to give and can give even with the little power I have. I went to the supply closet and pulled a small, clean, warm blanket from the heater and put it over his covers.
I was going to get that man a warm blanket if it was the last thing I do.
The truth is, I’m tired. The truth is, I didn’t even want to be there today. The truth is, sick people are incredibly taxing on everyone involved in their care. But most importantly- the truth is that I have so much more to give. I even turned off his light.