If you have ever experienced the misfortune of needing an emergency room visit to a busy inner city ER, you more than likely were subject to unruly wait times, overcrowding or one of the many other obstacles that could potentially cross your path. On the flip side, spending a day in the ER pretty much guarantees you front row seats to life in it’s most raw, untouched form; a valuable and potentially entertaining experience to say the least. But let’s face it-most people don’t go to an ER for the entertainment value, or to gain life experience. They come because they are sick, and often in a place of extreme discomfort.
As an ER nurse I have truly seen illness of every different type and severity. Chronic disease as a general category is among the most difficult both in terms of disease management and from an emotional standpoint. As care providers, we often see these patients frequent the ER due to complications and difficulty with managing their disease. The complexity of chronic disease often creates hardship and can be incredibly exhausting for the patient. In the ER, we see first hand the implications of unmanaged chronic disease to such an extreme extent. It has opened my eyes to the pressing need for prevention and education to help patients better cope with, understand and manage their disease in order to achieve the highest quality of life possible.
Emergency nursing continuously gives me such an unrefined view of fear, pain, relief, happiness and every other form of human emotion. It has also given me quite the number of stories that range from humorous to wonderfully touching. Believe me when I tell you-I could not make them up if I tried! One of the more recent touching stories includes a woman who had been dealing with chronic pancreatitis for years. This disease was causing her pain on such an intense level that her entire life had become unmanageable. After controlling her pain, I was able to listen to her story and hear how much emotional pain was associated with the physical pain she was enduring and the level of difficulty she had been experiencing with managing her pancreatitis. She told me about years and years of structuring her life around the disease, only to achieve minimal relief from her agonizing symptoms.
She then proceeded to tell me that despite her struggles, she had recently been given a large amount of hope that one day soon her symptoms could be completely alleviated. Hope is such a very powerful gift. One that I far too frequently overlook. I found myself so graciously accepting the reminder of it’s importance as this patient told me about the procedure she was going to have and the positive prognosis associated with it. Her entire demeanor changed and a glimmer of light spread across her face as it was clear she was imagining a life free from the pain and exhaustion of dealing with the pancreatitis.
She went on to tell me that she would be undergoing a surgical procedure that involved removal of her entire pancreas. Prior to the procedure, her own islet cells (insulin producing cells), would be extracted, later to be implanted in the liver to maintain some insulin production. She then explained that for a period of time in between the two procedures, she would be diabetic, requiring insulin injections, but that undergoing all of this was far worth the benefit. She had a number of questions about managing the diabetes and certain aspects of her health post procedure.
Education and prevention are so crucial to the quality of life for patients with chronic disease. Chronic disease is complicated and filled with many little detailed aspects, all requiring attention. Hearing her story was incredibly moving, and made me think about the beauty of research and modern day medicine. It’s amazing what we are capable of when we are given the right resources and some hope.