Story-Angel of the ICU

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this page was last updated 07/16/09


Years ago, as an ICU nurse, I took care of a 27-year-old patient named Kathy who had tried for five years to become pregnant. Finally, after using fertility drugs, she had a baby girl. The baby was born with a prolapsed cord, meaning the umbilical cord was “before” the baby.

This problem prevents the fetus from getting enough blood to the brain, the result being severe brain damage. When the baby girl was born, she was placed on a breathing machine, she was also, having continuous seizures and there was little hope of her living more than 24 hours.

The tiny infant girl was moved to the newborn intensive care unit, (NICU) but Mom was so sick she wasn't able to visit her. At Mom's request I took a photo of the baby, and taped it over her bed. Yes, the picture was sad with the baby connected to all the life support and monitoring equipment, but that’s what Mom wanted. The baby girl survived only four days.

Kathy was in our intensive care unit (ICU) for over six months due to a complication that is very rare, but can occur after delivery of a baby. The medical term for her condition was--get ready--“post partum hemorrhagic pancreatitis,” meaning, she was bleeding from her pancreas, and many of her abdominal organs were disintegrating.

At the time the cause of the condition was unknown, and the mother was in my care for six months, during which time she went through numerous surgeries.

In order to breathe, Kathy had a respirator (breathing machine) attached to a tracheostomy (hole in her neck).

Due to her intestines not being able to tolerate foods or tube feedings, she was 'fed' using intravenous fluids of a high nutritional value called Hyperalimentation, or TPN (Total Parental Nutrition).

Despite all she’d been through, Kathy remained a wonderful human being who was blessed with a very loving and supportive family.

With this background in mind, I’d like to share with you the miracle I witnessed and in which I feel that I played a role.

One evening when I came on duty, I was informed the surgeons were considering amputating Kathy's left leg. She was hemorrhaging from her gut, and the bleeding was so bad, the doctors inserted a tube in her large leg vessel (femoral artery) to administer a medication in an attempt to control the bleeding.

However, the problem is that when you mess with the major vessels in the leg, you have the danger of the limb itself not receiving an adequate blood supply, and the leg becomes necrotic, 'dies' requiring amputation.

Unfortunately, that was what was happening to Kathy. Her left leg was pale and cold, her foot was blue, mottled and without pulses. If this continued her leg would essentially die and amputation would be necessary, She had not yet been informed that the surgery was being considered, and the staff felt that based upon our established relationship I would be the best one to break the news.

After having received report from the day nurse, I entered Kathy's room as she slept, and quietly went about the routine of checking her IV lines, assessing her vital signs, and checking her ventilator settings.

When I had finished my required assessment, I stood at the foot of her bed and watched her sleep. It was eerily quiet. Absent were the usual sounds of all the alarms going off, the hustle and bustle of the normal, hectic ICU activity. The only sound was the rhythmic noise of the breathing machine moving her chest up and down.

As I stood at the end of her bed checking her foot and leg for pulses, I lingered there, gently stroking her leg and foot as I thought to myself, please, dear God, don’t take this woman’s leg. She has been through so much. She has gone through the loss of her baby and suffered through so many surgeries. I continued to stroke her and pray.

It seemed like only a minute or so before she awakened. She looked at me as I continued to stroke her foot. (She was accustomed to me stroking her, especially, during her bouts with pain or high fevers).

And, although she was not able to speak due to the tube (tracheostomy) she was able to 'mouth' the words to where we were able to understand her. She asked me what I was doing, with my reply of, “Just checking your foot. Go back to sleep.”

She had a quiet and uneventful night while I went about my usual duties. I never got the opportunity to tell her about the impending amputation surgery. It never felt like the right time.

When the next shift came on duty, it was agreed they would call me, and I would return to the hospital and be with her if the amputation surgery became a reality.

You would think that I would have obsessed about Kathy all that night, but for some reason sleep came easy and uninterrupted, since, the call never came.

Upon arrival for my shift the next evening, the staff and doctors were all beaming as they greeted me. “Guess what … the surgery didn’t have to happen. This morning her leg pinked up, her foot and leg are warm, and her pulses are bounding.” They added that she didn’t know the amputation was being considered.

Of course, I was happy, but for some reason, not surprised. When I entered Kathy's room and began my routine chores of checking her IVs and vital signs, she looked at me and smiled. Then she looked me in the eye and said, “I know what you did.” when asking her what she meant, she responded, “You saved my leg.” I looked at her and smiled, but never said a word. She smiled back at me, and we never spoke of the incident again.

It seemed that both of us were aware that great love and faith were shared that night, and to speak about what happened would somehow intrude upon the wonder of the moment, when silence was truly golden.

Being able to facilitate the love and healing with Kathy that fateful night, having served as the vehicle of God's healing love, simply because I cared what happened to another human being.

You see, I believe that regardless of all the science and medical breakthroughs, we humans are not omnipotent, because God meant for us to need one another.

And, we are all capable of being angels. In this case, I may have served as one, and I am truly grateful for that blessing.

What an honor, indeed!

Thank you, for allowing me to share my story.

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©1999 Pak


Story-Student Nurse*

Story-Simple Cross


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