Written By: Patricia Underwood
As a nurse, we call them “frequent flyers”. It may sound disrespectful, but we honestly don’t mean to be. It’s a code term for a patient that frequently visits the facility. In the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit), I wouldn’t have thought this would be a common occurrence, because really~ who PLANS to have surgery frequently?! It wasn’t long into my field change in nursing from being a cardiac nurse of 13 years to PACU nursing that I quickly discovered a bizarre, yet tragically sad problem. An epidemic really.
Sure, I had seen it in several “forms” multiple times throughout my years in nursing, but never to the degree as I’ve seen in the PACU. Without getting into too many potentially disturbing details, some people have such a difficult time coping with life that they harm themselves to the point that requires surgery. They are usually very open and honest about their reasons, once asked. I can’t pretend to understand exactly what they have gone through or what they are dealing with in their hearts or heads that leads them to thinking THAT is the only “answer” to somehow lessening the internal pain they are experiencing.
But, the sad truth is, for various reasons, it’s been my experience that most nurses find caring for these patients after surgery is extremely challenging. I would even go as far to say that many nurses dread the post-operative period with the patient. I believe it mostly has to do with the nurse’s own insecurity with how to approach and communicate with the patient. A lot of these patients are being treated for at least a couple different mental illnesses, so their behavior and attitudes could be affected by their medications, complicating the entire experience.
Matthew 25:40 (NLT)
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
It would be fair to say that of all the patients to care for in the recovery room, a patient with mental illness (especially one that self-harms to this extent) would be the “least of these”. He/she would be like the leper that is forbidden from coming into the crowd of people. They’d be the one that the disciples would advise Jesus to ignore.
Yet, Jesus sees the Beautiful inside.
He sees their heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
I believe a huge part of what patient’s with mental illness feel is a total loss of self-control. And can I just be honest here?! Haven’t we all felt that to one degree or another? I can’t say that I have always reacted the best in those situations myself. I may not have decided to self-harm, but indirectly, I’m sure the ways I “handled” those times in my life weren’t always the healthiest.
I once had such “frequent flyer” patient with mental illness. I remembered him clearly from the last time he had surgery. After he woke up from his last surgery, he became confused and combative during the post-operative period. He actually physically assaulted one of our male nurses and sent that nurse to the emergency room to be evaluated for a broken jaw! Several months passed and the patient was back for a similar surgery. This time, I was going to be his nurse in the recovery room. I prayed for God’s protection as this young man woke up from surgery and prayed that God would give me a calm demeanor for this man.
Not only did his post-operative period go perfectly, but God softened this young man’s heart and caused him to open up to me and share with me a beautiful piece of it that I believe he hasn’t shared with very many other people. This young man writes song lyrics! He keeps a journal of all the lyrics he’s ever written and had it with him. He mentioned it and I was immediately intrigued. Perhaps because I showed interest (maybe one of the first people to ever show genuine interest) he chose to share it with me.
I opened his simple 49-cent journal to see pages upon pages upon pages of lyrics, written in the most beautiful handwriting. It was obvious that such pride was taken when he wrote each line.
As I was flipping through his lyric journal, I felt like I was taking glimpses into his heart. I didn’t want to read the words because I felt like that was something too private, but I told him that I thought he had an amazing gift and I hope he continues to write!! I love how God uses even something that the world sees as “ugly” and can completely use and transform it into something so beautiful!! I pray this young man will be able to see God’s handiwork in his life (Ephesians 2:10 NIV) and see that He has been working all things for his good (Romans 8:28).
It was a privilege to care for this gentle soul that day. God reminded me that patients are more than their diagnosis and that they all need tender, loving care in their most vulnerable times of pain~ which often times is deeper than the physical level.
Until Next Time,