Ask any parent who has ever spent more than a few nights in the PICU and they will tell you life can become bizarre.
Life certainly is stressful in the PICU. It is exhausting. It is horribly sad at times.
But, parents will also say it's bizarre.
Why is this??
Because things in "real life" that are so not normal, can just become the norm in the PICU.
For instance, a 7 year old still sucking on a pacifier would get laughs in the real world. And yet, a 7 year old who has already had 5 heart surgeries and finds comfort in her pacifier (only when in the hospital) becomes a little bit more normal.
*OK, I will say as a sidenote, this one still gets laughs from staff...not in front of the patient or family! BUT- for whatever reason this patient remembers how comforting her pacifier was in her past surgeries, so she was asking for it again this time.
Another example: In real life, one could not live on oreos, animal crackers, and juice alone. OK, one may be able to live for awhile on these, but would certainly NOT maintain their weight, let alone lose weight!!
And yet, a mother of a patient that I took care of last week had been doing just that...and had lost a few pounds. Yes, the stress of her sick son was getting to her. She didn't want to leave her child's bedside. But we don't like passed out parents, so it's a rule they have to eat!!
She was sustaining her energy on oreos, animal crackers and juice alone (yes, these are the few items that we stock for patients/families in the PICU). And I have to say, in the last 6+ years I've been there, she is by far NOT the only parent to do this!! Once again, not normal in real life can be normal in the PICU.
And finally, the other night I was leaving work and had just finished report to the night shift nurse. Before leaving, I always say good-bye to the patient and family, and introduce the night nurse. The mother was also leaving as I was and turned to the night shift nurse and said,
"I am going home. My husband will be sleeping here with you tonight." She paused for a second, realizing how funny that sounded, but how true it was. Then she added "I give you my full blessing!"
We just started laughing!! As she left, she said, "Oh what a crazy life we lead here in the PICU!"
And it's so true! Again, what is not normal in real life can be the norm in the PICU.
And maybe a part of this is what keeps PICU nurses going. That a slightly alternate reality can keep us coming back. Or at least keep us from taking it home every night.
That despite the stress, the exhaustion, and the horribly sad times, it is the bizarre that gets us through. Or perhaps the laughs that the bizarre gives to us.
Or maybe we are just a bizarre breed that can handle such a life.
Whatever the reason, I am grateful for the bizarre. I am grateful for the PICU. And I am grateful for the the patients and families that allow me to look on the PICU with such fondness, and laugh!
So here's to being a bit bizarre today!! Do something that you wouldn't normally do, and act like it's perfectly normal! And hey, don't forget to laugh about it!