My patient today had a HR of 42, asymptomatic. The first thing he said when I triaged him, “you’re not going to make me go to the hospital, are you? They treat me like I don’t exist. I’d rather go back to the streets.” He looked so fearful, and for a few moments I was lost for words. He’s a veteran, which is not unusual in this unit. He spoke about the terrifying events he witnessed in Afghanistan, lives of his fellow soldiers sacrificed, large healed scars running up his right arm as a brutal reminder of the catastrophic attacks he survived - and now he was both homeless and frightened of our hospital system. I said simply, “You are safe here. We will care for you.”
He spoke about the sons and daughters he couldn’t face, the birthdays and Christmases he would never see, and the survivor’s guilt he felt today, on Memorial Day, surviving while so many others in Afghanistan lost their lives. As I listened, for a brief moment in time I was transported into his world of grief. His was a perspective I hadn’t considered. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I vaguely wondered why people say “happy Memorial Day.” I honestly do not understand much of war, but this statement confounds me a bit, and I wonder what Veterans think when they hear it. This unit specializes in crisis intervention, and we receive a great deal of people from all walks of life, devastated by loss of home, or any basic human rights. I’m relieved there are medical/nursing nonprofit organizations like this who see the human beyond the exterior, and won’t turn their backs on them.
He may not remember my name, or those of any of his caregivers, and that’s ok; I hope he remembers simply that we respected him. I will remember him, far beyond today. Some patients just have that impact. Today is the first day in a long time I am struck by the beauty of simplicity in nursing, and why I choose it over and over again.