Once in a very long while you get somebody under your hands who ought to have been let go months before.
We had somebody like that the other month: multiple surgeries for a brain tumor that was not going to go away (grade IV glioblastoma), multiple rounds of chemo and radiation, and in the middle of all of that, a surgery for an abscess that led to wound-vac sponges all down one side of the poor sot's body.
The spouse didn't want to let them go. The mother didn't want to let them go. The brother didn't particularly say one way or the other.
Ever smell a person who is, quite literally, rotting from the inside out? It's not fun.
Because, see, a glioblastoma (that's the most common form of malignant brain tumor and is, thankfully, still very rare) slowly takes away your ability to think, speak, walk, control your bodily functions. Then it starts to take away your ability to breathe. And your brain's ability to control things like its temperature and blood pressure. And, eventually, it will invade the areas of your brain that register pain. At that point, you will be in pain all the time every day forever for as long as you last.
It sucked. For us, as well as for the patient.
The only reason I can think of that this person was kept alive was that they had a significant pension that would've ended upon their death.
So their spouse, the person who was supposed to keep their best interests in mind, kept them alive for two entire months in order to get money.
I very rarely get *existentially* angry at work. I get angry at the administration, or at Manglement's bad decisions. There's one house supervisor in particular that I suspect was put on this earth to make sure my lungs get a workout every three weeks or so. But I generally don't get to the point that I go in search of things to punch. Ask my coworkers: they'll tell you that I'm the sweetest-tempered, most cheerful, helpful person they work with.
Seriously. And I haven't drugged a one of 'em.
Anyway. When this person came to us (and I'm carefully not using gendered terms here, because it would probably surprise you), they were reasonably compos mentis. By "reasonably" I mean that they knew their name, they knew where they were and why, and they'd mostly follow simple commands.
Within two weeks, the leftover tumor in their brain had doubled in size. Glios do that. The things that cancer loves are space and glucose and a good blood supply, and the brain has all three. What makes glioblastoma particularly nasty is that it's a tumor of the structural cells of the brain, so it sends out little undetectable filaments all around the original site. You can never get rid of it entirely.
But you can resect, and irradiate, and chemotherapize, and that's what happened. And when the patient developed an abscess on the right side of the abdomen, it didn't heal. It kept filling up with pus and tissue kept dying, because all the things we were doing to kill their brain tumor kept the rest of their body from fixing itself.
So at the end of the day we had a patient who was not a DNR, who was not on palliative care, who could not have a feeding tube inserted into their stomach courtesy of the twenty-five centimeter wide wound in their belly that would not heal; who had been intubated and extubated and who, finally, had to be four-point restrained because the tumor had hit the pain centers in their brain.
The family didn't want continuous pain control because they felt the patient was still able to communicate. This, when the MRI showed that three-quarters of this person's brain was tumor.
All of this made me vent uncontrollably to my buddy Mark, the neurointensivist. It made me vent to Ginny The Inappropriate Chaplain, and to my coworkers, and once to the patient's spouse (in a controlled and therapeutic manner). Ethics came in, ethics bowed out, case management was crushed under the wheels of the Sustain Life At All Costs juggernaut, and we all started to have a bit of twitchy post-traumatic stress.
Finally we discharged the patient to an acute-care, long-term setting. And there they died, after multiple codes, a day ago.
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What nobody tells you about nursing is how cases like this can haunt you. I've dreamed about that poor person at least once a week for two months, now; the news that they'd died has turned the nightmares into milder anxiety dreams.
There's something about changing and bathing and turning a person who begs to be left alone to die that scars you. I am supposed to be alleviating pain, not causing it. I have a personal rule to touch every patient in my care at least once a shift *without gloves,* no matter what they've got, in a way that doesn't cause pain. Because, frankly, a lot of people in the hospital don't get touched without at least discomfort, and that fucks a body up.
But what do you do when there's nothing you *can* do? We were barred from starting a morphine drip or giving IV pain meds. The poor patient's brain was working against them. Everything hurt. Everything was futile.
And through most of it, the patient asked, then begged, to be allowed to go home with Dad. Dad had been dead for some fifty years, but showed up at the bedside on a daily basis, trying to get our patient to go with him.
I do not often have to get angry about injustice and cruelty. I don't often cry over my patients any more.
This one, I'll do both.