There’s not many things that happen in the ER that stop me dead in my tracks, but diagnosing someone with cancer is one of them. When I wrote the title of this post I was thinking about the patient, but I guess it applies to me as well. There’s this devastating moment in every cancer patients life where a doctor says something along the lines of “I’m sorry but I have some bad news.” And at that moment EVERYTHING suddenly changes. The moment before, you were just a person living their life, concerned with the same hopes, dreams, and mundane bullshit that fills up every persons life. The moment after is like regaining consciousness after being sucker punched by Mike Tyson. You’re mind is trying to think but nothing’s happening – all you can think of is “Wait – what did he just say?“
It’s so fucking heartbreaking – they come to the ER for what they think is some benign event: abdominal pain, maybe they’re just feeling tired, or perhaps sudden weight loss. Then we do a CT scan and there’s fucking tumors everywhere. The doc now has the unenviable task of telling them, and trust me, there is no easy way to do it. The best approach is to bring them into a private area (not easy to find in a busy ER), and then just be brutally honest in as compassionate a manner as can be mustered. I don’t know which is worse – this or telling someone their loved one just died.
When I have to take part in this process it’s because they are my patient – as their nurse, part of my job is helping them understand what’s happening, I am there to help provide guidance through murky, rough waters. But I went through this process myself, and although I came through it, all of those feelings come rushing back.
I want to tell them everything will be alright, but I can’t do that because they need my honesty and I know too much. It’s a terrible moment in someone’s life. When you’re a nurse, pain, suffering, and death are everywhere.
It’s just part of the gig.