Mrs. Hardy was only my patient twice, both times before she had awakened. I see her sometimes for turns though, since she is one of the larger patients on the unit and changing her bed sheets is a four person job. One of these times sticks in my memory.
I had arrived first in the room and stood on one side of the bed with my isolation gown and gloves on. Her nurse, named Hope, stood on the other side. We needed two more people to start. Seeing us, Mrs. Hardy started to mouth words urgently. It is very hard to read lips and most of the time the patients are either mad or unable to adjust to their circumstances. A lot of time can be wasted trying to figure out what they are saying and often nurses do not bother. We know they are saying “Don’t turn me! It hurts!” But we have to do it anyways and we don’t have to convince them first. All four of us will be having other things to do after this. We just have to get it over with.
There were only two of us though and I do try to be above average in making an effort. It looked like she was mouthing, “I want do die,” so I repeated those words back to her. Hope leaned over “You want to die?” it was something else “I want (something)” over and over. “You want water?” She does, but that is not it. She knows she can’t have any. “You want something for pain?” No. “You want to change your position?” No. Hope figures it out, “You want to go outside? You want to go outside. Well Honey, nothing is stopping you, go right ahead. I won’t stop you. The only problem is I can’t do anything for you. I am not allowed to help you.” Hope is not trying to be cruel, she is just searching for the right words to explain that this is not a request she can consider and she knows there is no one else Mrs. Hardy can ask. In the end, Hope can’t be bothered with things like this. It is not her job. I think of how her words might sound to Mrs. Hardy and try to change the subject. “Good thing we did not turn off the vent.” I joke. Hope replies that she was saying she wanted to die earlier though. Mark and the tech arrive now and want to know what the joke was. I start to explain, but then I stop myself. This is probably not so nice for Mrs. Hardy’s ears either. I want to redeem myself. I look into her eyes and start to talk to her. “We are going to turn you now Mrs. Hardy. We will try to be quick.”
It is hard to explain the agony a turn can be for an ICU patient. Lifting one finger hurts them. Hope hands me her left arm (I am on the right side of the bed) and the tech grabs her left leg and we pull. Mrs. Hardy resists and we pull harder. When we have her halfway over, Mark and hope pull on the sheet beneath her to rotate her hips farther. Mrs. Hardy can reach the right bedrail now and hangs on as best she can to help us. She is frantic from pain (what does it feel like to be turned on your side when you just have a big hole stuffed with bandages where your guts once were?) And she can barely breathe in this position. Her face turns bright red and then starts to go bluish. “We are almost done Mrs. Hardy. Hang in there.” She flails around as much as she can, but she is very weak, she cannot do very much. Hope finishes wiping her back down and she and Mark begin to thread the roll of new sheets and absorbent pads under her various tubes and wires. I bend down a little to look into Mrs. Hardy’s eyes. “How are you doing Mrs. Hardy?” Her face is scrunched up and her eyes full of anguish. “I’m scared! I’m scared!” she mouths quite clearly. I see that she is talking about more than just the turn. This is her life and it is unbearable and there is no escape. “You’re scared,” I repeat, partly so the others can hear what she is saying. “I understand,” I say, “You are in a very tough situation Mrs. Hardy. It must be so hard.” I feel I have offered her something by saying this, though it may be precious, pathetic little. At least I am listening. At least someone understands her and feels for her if only just a little bit. Why say it will all be okay, when it won’t and it isn’t? How lonely it must be. Everyone else can pretend, but Mrs. Hardy has to experience it all - helplessly and all alone.