first official day of a (hopefully long) career in hospitals // probs the best ID photo ever taken of me
On Saturday I started my volunteer position at CHI St. Joseph hospital in the stroke unit.
I have to wear khaki pants, a polo, and tennis shoes, so I look like a straight dweeb. But, I do get a name badge, so that’s pretty cool.
My shift started at noon, but I was 20 minutes early despite getting lost. I met the charge nurse, Becky, and she made the patient care tech, Katie, my supervisor. Katie isn’t actually a nurse. She doesn’t have a CNA or a degree. She goes to Blinn and she was studying for this psychology class that she has failed twice already. She’s definitely not the smartest cookie in the box, but she is amazing at her job. The patients and their families love her. When she went downstairs for lunch, the nurses were all saying that they needed her back to keep the place running smoothly. She basically works the nurses station and organizes the nurses they can do their jobs more effectively.
First, I did the exciting work of making copies. Then, I answered phones. I used to work the to go counter at Buffalo Wild Wings so I know how to work a phone, but this was really hard. Patients would call the white phones and ask for something, but most of them are recovering from strokes so they don’t have full control of the muscles one side of their body, making them very difficult to understand. And most of them are pretty old so they talk very softly. I relayed the few words I picked up to a nurse and they took care of the patient. Hospital staff called the black phone, and I would answer with a perky stoke unit, this is Katie and they would just start talking in a language I didn’t understand. I realized after a few calls that they thought I was the patient care tech Katie, not first day volunteer Katie. I managed to pass off every phone call to someone who knew more than I did, which was normally Becky. It was a miracle that I didn’t screw anything up.
One really cool thing about St. Joseph is thy tube system. It’s exactly like when Buddy the Elf was working in the mail room at his dad’s office, but without the alcohol and the security guards. They have tubes that sent down pipes to every unit in the hospital. Most of the tubes come from the pharmacy, so they contain medications and IV fluids for the patients. I got to receive and send a few tubes which was so freaking cool. Katie’s best friend works down in the pharmacy by their tube station, so they secretly send notes back and forth. She told me I could send her a note sometime.
Then, even more cool stuff started. Katie and I prepared two rooms for new admits. I got to learn the code to the stock closet and how to set up everything for the patient and the family. This might sound boring, but I loved actually doing something, and knowing the code makes me feel cool. I even got to watch a portable x-ray. Katie asked me if I had ever taken vitals. I said no and she offered to teach me. She was happy that I was so excited to do something that most of the nurses found monotonous. Katie said one semester they had a volunteer who wanted to be a doctor so he refused to do things that would be beneath him, like taking vitals. I was happy to be learning whatever they wanted to teach me. Katie showed me how to do vitals on one patient, and then let me take the vitals on Mr. Wilson. His stats were really terrible, so we got his nurse. She said he was circling the drain and hospice would be coming to take him soon. She put an NG tube in to give him more medication. She threaded it through his nose and into his stomach, then listened for bubbles in the stomach as they aspirated the tube to make sure it was in the right place.
I went back to the phones to wait for the next cool thing to happen. A while later, I saw a couple doctors walk past the nurses’ station and go into Mr. Wilson’s room, so I followed them to offer my assistance and hopefully get to see something cool. They told me I could come in, but I left after I realized they were telling Mrs. Wilson that her husband would likely not survive the night. I stood outside the room as a flurry of activity started. First, all the monitors in Mr. Wilson’s room started beeping. Then, the loudspeakers came on, calming repeating code green code green. I racked my brain trying to remember what code green meant, but I couldn’t remember. Surely they would use code blue if a patient’s heart stopped? I mean, that’s what happens on Grey’s Anatomy. But when almost all of the nurses rushed into the room, I knew it was bad.
I stood frozen outside the room as the activity slowed down. I heard a doctor apologizing and Mrs. Wilson crying. Doctors and nurses gracefully exited the room, but I was glued to the wall across from the door. Katie came up and startled me. I looked at her and started crying. She snapped into the role of caregiver and ushered me to the back of the nurses station. She handed me tissues and demanded I stayed in the back until I calmed. My shift had been over for about an hour, but they made me stay for a while to make sure I was okay. They had me break down charts, which is basically taking papers out of a binder and stapling them together. It was almost five by the time I left the hospital.
I can’t believe the man I took my first vitals on died less than an hour later.
I’ve never seen death happen like that. It’s always been a vague idea that happens to people when I’m not around. Saturday definitely changed my life perspective, but I haven’t figured out how. Yet.