Arriving at the hospital for a shift is always a little bit of an unknown. How many patients have been admitted, how sick are they and who will be around to work alongside you?
Sometimes though, if you’ve worked the day before, you can assume that a few of your patients will still be there waiting for you. This was the case during one 16-hour night shift with my 25 year old patient (who I will call Grace) who'd spent a lot of time admitted in the ward.
I arrived to find my patient load to be five, three of whom would likely find themselves in an ICU if they were in a western country, Grace being the sickest. She required two blood transfusions on this particular night and she was also on 3 different kinds of IV antibiotics in which multiple doses were due at different times throughout the night. One thing was clear to me from the start, this was going to be a busy shift! I was suddenly thankful for the bag of coffee I’d brought with me.
After receiving handover from the day shift staff, I began my shift by chatting with each patient and the family member accompanying them, sorted out any outstanding issues from the day shift and prepared for the first set of medications that were due to be given at 6pm. Medication time is busy, but it’s one of my favourite times, because it gives me a chance to connect with my patients and really get to know them, stop to pray for them or simply to provide for a need they have like pain relief or medications to help their nausea.
Grace had multiple medications due at each regular scheduled medication time 6, 8, 10, 12 plus ones outside of these. On oxygen, and still extremely short of breath, she was unable to get comfortable or to fall asleep and so she spent most of her time sitting up on the side of her bed. Each time as I entered her room to bring something or check on her, she had a few extra questions she wanted to ask me about faith or she wanted to discuss the power of prayer or having faith. As I checked her vital signs and began her blood transfusion, we chatted through various topics and it was clear that even though she was extremely sick, she was still full of hope that she would be healed and get back to her normal life one day.
In between taking care of the other patients, I would head back into her room and check on the various antibiotics and blood transfusions that were running by gravity into her veins. Around 12am when I went in to start another antibiotic, I found her family member asleep and Grace sitting on the edge of her bed. As I finished and went to leave the room she reached out and grabbed my hand and said, “you have to pray with me”. I stopped and complied on the spot and prayed with her. When I left the room, I was humbled that God had just used her as a reminder that I had missed out on the opportunity to say a prayer with each of my patients before they went to sleep for the night.
Heading back to the nursing station, I settled in with a cup of coffee and completed my documentation. Every 15 minutes on the dot, I was up and back with Grace to help with another need she had or to check on the progress of her blood transfusions. In between these visits, I spent time praying for each patient and my coworkers and working on continuing education presentations to lead for the nursing staff in the coming months.
Before I knew it, it was 5am, the busiest time in the ward, starting with vital signs, then bathing for all the patients, breakfast and morning medications, all before the day staff arrived to take over. But for Grace and I, nothing had changed too much. Neither of us had slept at all, so we weren’t waking up, just simply still trekking through. As the sun rose and the ward began to warm and brighten, I took a minute to make my final cup of coffee for the shift, but Grace faced another challenge of her own, having to swallow her 10 large tablets before and with her breakfast which included treatment for Tuberculosis and HIV. Signing off on my patients’ charts, I provided the day staff with a report of my busy night, particularly about the challenges Grace had faced. Before I left, I walked around to each of my patients to say goodbye and remind them they’d be in my prayers.
Tired, but thankful, I left the hospital and joined a line of rush hour traffic on the way back home to cook myself breakfast and to try to accomplish something, although I knew ultimately I’d fall fast asleep at some unexpected time in the day. As I reflected on my shift on the way home, I was humbled by the way God used Grace and the other patients to remind me to use the opportunities and time He gives me.
Unfortunately, just a week later, Grace died after a long and hard fight. Although we grieve with her family for a loss of life at such a young age, I’m confident after many conversations with Grace, that she is with her Lord and Saviour and free from the pain she so greatly suffered with on this earth and this brings me great peace.