Running off Grief
Although, I've been a nurse for a few years now, I experienced my first patient loss in my career recently as a NICU nurse. My outlet for my grief, and source for reflection, became running. Although I wouldn't call myself a writer (or a runner, for that matter), I was bitten by the most peculiar creativity bug during my work out, and wrote this immediately after I finished exercising.
It’s with sad irony that I power up the treadmill in the gym exactly 24 hours after I started chest compressions on you. You were my first patient loss. Being new to the NICU (though not new to nursing), I know you won’t be my last. I forced myself down to the gym to run off the grief.
The myriad of feelings that I have experienced in the last day is overwhelming. The entire unit, even the doctors, cried as your family walked in to hold you for the first and last time. We held them as they held you. I woke up briefly in the middle of the night. My initial feelings, that I felt like I was wrapped in a blanket of sadness, had evolved. It felt like the wind had been knocked out of me instead. It made me restless. I needed to do something.
Sweat begins to run down my forehead as I get closer to completing my first mile. Moments replay in my head like a movie, of how your care progressed in the times that I took care of you, of bargaining with God as your heart rate started to drop, of calm desperation as our team rallied around you, and of the feeling of indescribable defeat as we stopped our efforts. I had a feeling that you’d be leaving us on my watch as soon as I laid eyes on you. You looked so unwell compared to previous days. Based on your labs and vital signs, you were circling the drain. We tried so hard to save you anyway. You fought so hard with us.
Glancing at the clock as I continue to run towards mile one-and-a-half, I realize that, 24 hours ago, your resuscitation still continued. I was giving you yet another dose of epinephrine at that point. We all stared at your heart monitor, praying that (somehow) your heartrate would increase, allowing the rest of us in the room to breathe. And even though I’m getting tired now, I think of your family. I think of how tired they must feel. I think of how you must have felt so tired, especially at the very end.
I push harder. Thump, thump, thump, my feet whack against the treadmill belt. I force myself run faster. The last time that I ran multiple miles was in high school, but it looks like I’ll do it again today. I might hurt tomorrow, but it’ll be gratifying to focus on the physical soreness achieved from exercise instead of the emotional pain.
I step off of the treadmill today one minute after we stopped your resuscitation efforts yesterday. No amount of medication, chest compressions, blood product, or ventilation would keep you with us anymore. Some might say that I was running from my feelings today, but all I saw as I stared at the wall ahead of me when I ran was you