Taking quick short breaths, trying my best not to look idiotic, I approached the nurse’s station. These last few hours of work left me mystified and overwhelmed by the horror of the darker side of human nature masquerading as an angel of care. Upon starting my shift of twelve hours a few minutes earlier, to my horror, one of the nurses I was displeased with was my charge for the night. This nurse was the proverbial nurse from hell.
At face value, she was a personification of what a nurse should be. Or so I thought. She was always well-groomed with an approach of friendliness. Her melodious voice dazzled the senses, leaving you wanting to be her friend. Laughter had always surrounded her outside the patient’s room. So I called her “Nurse Butterfly.”
Once Nurse Butterfly began patient care, she evolved like the horrifying shark ‘Jaws’ from the deep. Her grip brought pain. She unleashed a mystic aura that would send her victim (not patient) romanticizing death. Mr. Day, one of her patients with a tracheotomy, was next in line.
He had been running a high fever and elevated blood pressure most of the night and sometimes had difficulty breathing. I was his assigned patient-care tech for the shift. I kept a close eye on him throughout the night. At about dawn, I noticed he was having severe difficulties breathing and was sweating heavily. I took his vital signs and found that his fever and blood pressure were dangerously high, which was an alarming case.
Mr. Day indicated by gesturing with his hand that he needed his electric fan on. Immediately, I switched it on. Then, I informed Nurse Butterfly of his condition. Her response was,
“I’ve done all that I can for him. But, he wants to be pampered, and I don’t have the time to pamper him!”
I was frustrated by this disgusting behavior. It wasn’t as if Nurse Butterfly was busy doing patient care; she was socializing or reading a magazine. Unable to hold my peace any longer, I blurted out,
“I’m going to talk to the supervisor. Someone has to help this man before he dies!”
Angrily, Nurse Butterfly pulled herself away from her catalog, storming back into Mr. Day’s room, shouting, “I’ve done all I can for you!”
Switching off his fan, she continued her tirade. “I don’t want to get your germs all over me! So what do you want me to do?!” She demanded, glaring down at him.
Frustrated and angered by her approach and response, I quickly walked away. I couldn’t stay another second in the same area with her without placing my job in jeopardy. If I reported her, it would be viewed as insubordination. The culture then was that you don’t question your superiors’ actions or decisions because they knew best, and disobedience was a common reason for firings. Nurse Butterfly stormed out of the room behind me on my heels, returning to her favorite spot, a chair in the corner with her fashion catalog waiting.
There she plopped down in her chair and continued surfing through its pages, passing the time for which she got paid. Observing the insanity of it, I got closer to her, staring at her, making her uncomfortable. Her eyes and mine made four; she knew what I was thinking. Becoming irritated with me staring at her, reluctantly, she returned to the patient’s room with an attitude of annoyance. Following behind her, looking on in utter disbelief of such callousness, I watched as she went through her routine then hastily returned to her seat. As I looked at both of them, I wasn’t sure who deserved my sympathy; the sick Mr. Day or his nurse who was emotionally ill. She should’ve been in a padded room of her own at that moment. My contempt for her was raw.
Once more, I took his vital signs; they were through the roof. I called the supervisor. Upon her arrival, Nurse Butterfly quickly appeared, now acting concerned and attentive. I bit my lips to contain my anger. That moment if I could have—I wanted to tell her to go into rearing cattle. It was apparent that nursing wasn’t the right field for her. Sadly, Mr. Day didn’t make it that night, but neither did Nurse Butterfly. She lost her employment at the hospital as a result. In addition, management realized she cost more than they were willing to pay.
Mr. Day was alive up to that night, but Nurse Butterfly had died long before meeting him. Her trail of lousy patient care was commonly known and discussed in the staff’s gathering areas in and out of the hospital. That night she’d crossed the line between the sanctity of life and a blatant disregard for it. I later learned she had spent a good part of her professional life harvesting body parts in the organ donor community. As a result, those years of witnessing life reduced to their parts measured and valued by the demand in the healthcare communities; she too lost her whole! And the part missing most was her heart. In her nursing profession, harvesting body parts did her in as a person. Sadly for her, she suffered the most significant loss in having lost her soul.
The event was utterly etched in my memory as it taught me the ironic state of compassion. We, as people, are often desensitized because of our gruesome experiences in life. However, one must never withdraw from the innocent and kind state that we were born in. No matter the circumstances, love breeds love, and Nurse Butterfly was a soul deprived of love. Marjorie Delores