A Lot Goes on in the ICU

It sounds dramatic to say we leave little pieces  of our souls everywhere we go, but in the ICU,  

it’s true. We cause a lot of pain in order to  alleviate pain. We can’t let emotion cloud  

our judgment (I couldn’t do what I have to do,  if I saw every patient as my grandmother). 

But disconnecting can also get us in trouble– emotion is a double-edged sword. I need to feel  

to have compassion. I need to feel to remember  the patient is screaming for a reason.  

One upside of critical care medicine is that we’re  not fighting insurance companies to get patients  

what they need. One question guides us:  what can we do to save the patient’s life? 

A lot of times, lives are saved. A lot of times,  lives are lost. Sometimes life is simply left behind  

because the burdens are too heavy to carry. And when  my shift ends, and I go home to my ten-year-old dog,  I set it all aside. After all, a lot goes on  in the ICU, and I’ll be back again tomorrow.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She wanted this poem to feel empowering, given the magnitude and complexity of the work she did every day. As difficult as it was, this person loved working in the ICU. She described the many pressures of caring for critically ill patients, as well as the unique aspects of critical care medicine that drew her to it. “I’m still trying to figure out how to cope with it all,” she said. “After a day in the ICU, it’s hard to talk to other people; I need time to recharge on my own.” She told me that she knew patient stories were often untold because the care team had to be so focused on people’s illnesses and keeping them alive. “As providers, we forget how to come back to the humanity. We forget patients are people, too.” she said. “But our priority is saving lives, so we do what we need to do in order to be able to think on our feet and stay focused.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

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