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How Do You Explain?

I’ve updated the sidebar links again. My loooovely husband got me my Image Manipulation Program of Choice for Christmas and it’s been so very nice playing around with it again. I’ve added some blogs, deleted some, and in checking to make sure the links work, I’ve noticed that some of your blogs underwent a makeover. So if the mood struck, I went ahead and redesigned your button.

As always, if you don’t like your button please feel free to make one of your own and I’ll replace it. You need to stick it in a .jpg file that’s 90 pixels x 25 pixels. Yeah, it’s small.

Here’s a story submission from “traumanurse,” and she sent it almost an entire year ago:

I am a fun-loving person. I work in a Level One trauma unit. We have a lot of fun as all the RN’s and MD’s are great people and we make a great team. This helps a lot with all the drama in trauma.

We have a few resus’ every week. And these are fine – training and adrenalin take over and we actually manage to maintain a sense of humor before, during and after- but it’s going home that gets me.

How do I explain to my small children that I am not a mommy right the moment I get home? That I need a couple of minutes to myself just to become a mommy again? I am the highly professional person that has just witnessed the life seep away from someone’s husband, father, child, and now I have to be the referee in the fighting, dish up equal portions and put Barbie’s shoes on- so they stop slipping off. I think is the main reason I prefer night shift is because you get home when everyone is asleep – so I can do mindless things like water the garden or feed the cats – or just sit and stare into space.

To explain to a non-medical person what it’s like is very difficult. In a resus- it is not a human being. It is not someone’s dad. It is an airway, a chest, a blip on the ECG; a vein to put a drip up. A pupil that may or may not react to light. These are the patients that you leave behind when you go home – nonsensical and they don’t haunt your dreams. It’s the ones that grab your hand, that make you look at them, that make you SEE them, who make it difficult. How do you explain this to your five year old? That fine line between life and death. That fight to keep someone from going to the “light.” There is no light in the trauma unit/ICU – there is only the adrenaline taking over – the clear instructions, there is no pain – no emotion – until it’s over. Until someone said those words: “time of death”.

How do I explain this?


I’ve sometimes found it very difficult to come home and act as though something emotionally earth shattering hadn’t just happened. Sometimes it’s hard to get back to “life” because whatever has your brain scrambled won’t leave your thoughts. Sometimes I’ve found that it’s because it doesn’t feel right to go back to normal life. After witnessing and being a part of a profound moment in someone’s life, it feels like you literally have to take some time and process it and honor it in a way before you can get back to your normal life.

I usually take the drive home as an opportunity to absorb events that happen at work. Sometimes it takes me a lot longer – days, even. There are some situations at work that still haunt me years later. I have a feeling it’s like that for almost everyone.

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As healthcare providers we run the risk of bearing the effects of both acute and cumulative vicarious grief. The only thing I know to do that is effective in addressing and reconciling the pain of it all is to 1. accept it and 2. talk about it with others who care and understand.

The emotional distancing I feel after witnessing/participating in the care of a horrific situation is protective. It gives me time to process what I have gone through. If I do not have the time to adequately process the harmful event before I must interact with family or others, I very deliberately set it aside until I CAN safely resolve the issue. One hazard to this ‘compartmentalizing’ of emotions is the risk of suppressing feelings until the pressure of them causes emotional havoc.

Here is to telling the truth to those who care and understand!


This is so true – and it’s one of the reasons I appreciate a 35 minute commute. I need that time to process and assume the mom/wife role or the professional nurse role on my way to work. My kids are grown now but it’s still hard to explain to my husband exactly what an ER shift can be like. Kudos to you for doing trauma, it’s not something I could do.

So, what brought you to the hospital today?

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  • profileI am Gina. I have been a nurse for 15 years, first in med/surg, then CVICU, inpatient dialysis, CCU and now hospice. This blog is about my experiences as a nurse, and the experiences of others in the healthcare system - patients, nurses, doctors, paramedics. We all have stories!

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