May 13, 2006, 3:16 am

When the Rock Crumbles: the ER Nurse as the Family Member

jelloI actually remember getting Jello, handmade in the hosptial dietary department, molded into this wonderful mound of cherry goodness!

No pre-packaged generic gelatin in cups back then, no siree!

They called it a clear liquid, but I called it a treat.

I had a head injury with LOC, vomiting and photosensitivity. No CT to confirm an intact cerebral cortex, of course. It was 1963.

But my roommate had a broken leg in traction and I was so jealous of her because she got real food.

Let me tell you the smell of those scambled eggs in the morning as they passed my bedside still waft through the nares of my memory.

Unfortunately, the midnight rectal temps that woke us up from a sound sleep are still, um, inserted in my memory, too. Blech!

You said you can’t have it all?


The majority of the following post was written on a paper towel in a local emergency room. And while no names of doctors or the facility are noted, I received the permission of the patient to tell his story in detail.

The patient is my husband.


It is 1630 and I am sitting in “Local ER With Trauma Center”. The same ER that “treated” my chest pain.

Only this time, I’m the family member.


I had gone to bed at 0600, having returned home from my shift at 0430.

At 1030, I was roused by my husband, who reported to me that he had come home from work after one hour because of severe bilateral upper quadrant abdominal discomfort that radiated into his back, bilaterally, under both scapula.

I woke up enough to ask if he had chest pain, nausea, diaphoresis or shortness of breath. Negative answers to all. Positive increase in pain with right upper quadrant palpation, abdomen non-distended and soft. No change with movement. Bowel movements normal. Color good, skin warm and dry. (Who says you can’t assess when you are half asleep?).

Tums ineffective. I gave him Protonix, which they felt would be so helpful to me with my left anterior chest pain. Must be dynamite on abdominal pain.

And then the man who blanches at the word “doctor” and at age 51, has never seen one, said the words that gave me goosebumps.

“I’m going to the ER.”

No, he said, I didn’t need to drive him. Besides, I had to work at 1900 and he’d call me with the results. I needed to sleep.

Given this ERs stunning treatment of my chest pain, I figured he’d wait for two hours, then get called in, given a GI cocktail (with viscous xylocaine, if he was lucky), wait for a few lab results and then get a referral to an internist.

Well, he waited 90 minutes, was roomed and waited two hours before the doctor saw him. By then I had to wake up to pick up my daughter from school and hubby wans’t home. I called the ER.

They just now had drawn his blood.

Brought daughter home, threw on an outfit that just “screamed” professional – my Journey tour T-shirt from last year – and went to the ER.

Hubby was in ultrasound when I got there. But his roommate was nice enough to let me know they had given hubby pain medicine and taken him to ultrasound. And that his blood sugar was almost 300.


(Ah the joy of a roommate – HIPPA eat your heart out, you don’t stand a chance!)

We did not know the results of the ultrasound for two hours.

It had now been seven hours since admission.

Hubby had gallstones. Nobody said…the “D” word…yet.

It was not easy leaving my husband briefly to go get the kids dinner, get my son to drive me back to get hubby’s car. By that time hubby had been waiting 45 minutes for a pain shot. After the nurse had asked the doc three times to write it.

I started bawling the minute I left the ER. My husband is a healthy, active man. To see him sedated in a hospital gown ripped me apart. I was shocked at my emotionalism for a diagnosis of gallstones. The “D” word was looming. And I knew it.

I pulled myself together and ordered dinner through the KFC. I was pretty out of it, I guess. I ordered the 21 piece meal for three people. What was I thinking?

I get back to the hospital in time to meet Dr. NiceYoungMan, the hospitalist. Nine hours after rooming. The usual pleasantries, the usual H and P. Gonna check in and manage his medical issue. Says that hyperglycemia is not unusual in stressful situations.


Then came Miss GodtheSurgeon. Ten hours after rooming, approximately three hours after the diagnosis of cholecystitis.

God Bless this woman.

She didn’t smile, she never wavered from her H and P and she couldn’t have cared less if I was a nurse or the First Lady of the USA. She would have treated me the same either way, like a side attraction.

But…. she gave a fantastic description of what was wrong with hubby, the surgery and if we can put if off for a week. She knows her stuff blindfolded, and she laid it on the line.

She basically said he was fooling himself to think he was healthy with his dramatic family history, never going to a physician in his entire adult life, told him his BP was elevated, he had probably get on a statin pronto and…..with no if, ands or buts……

She used the “D” word”

My husband has diabetes.


He is devastated.

I am devastated.

I cried all the way home and I’m ready to start again.

Diabetes is what happens to other people. When I see you in crisis, I start the insulin and put up the drip….and send you on your way to ICU.

Why, as a professional nurse am I so devastated at the diagnosis of diabetes?

I know you can live with it. I know that with good control you can avoid the pitfalls and end-organ failures. I know active, vibrant people who could be ADA poster folk!!

I think I’m grieving.

Not for me, but for my husband, who wore his healthy status like an Olympic medal and now has to come to grips with a chronic disease.

“I am a rock.”
“I am an island.”
“And a rock feels no pain.”
“And an island never cries.”
(as sung by Simon and Garfunkle)

Well I’m not.

And I do.


Today I found out that my eldest daughter, Lillian, is engaged.

In a week my son graduates from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

So in the midst of stress, joy.

We just have to get hubby to that graduation, if it means moving hell and high water.


  • Nickie

    May 13, 2006 at 6:11 am

    You and your husband will definitely be in my thoughts and prayers while you make adjustments to this new condition. I’d say it’s a good thing that you’re able to be sad/cry/feel whatever you need to feel.

  • Linda

    May 13, 2006 at 7:20 am

    Ahh Kim, your stories are just so eloquently written. I feel like they should make your blog into a novel. I’d buy it! I’ll be keeping your family in my prayers this week.

  • geena

    May 13, 2006 at 8:00 am

    I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s diagnosis 🙁 But he has the best chance possible of reducing complications because of you. Good luck.

  • Chele

    May 13, 2006 at 8:22 am

    Oh Kim…I’m so sorry. Isn’t the cyberworld a funny thing? I’ve been reading your blog for several months now and I feel so connected to you. I’m an ER/trauma RN too and every day I eagerly look to see what you’ve written. What highs and lows this week for you! As I go out with my work “friends” today (one of us is leaving the area) I will think happy thoughts for your kids and keep a prayer in my heart for your husband. He has the best nurse at his bedside!

  • Monika

    May 13, 2006 at 9:19 am

    So sorry to hear about your husband’s diagnosis. The husband in the hospital gown thing really is hard to take, isn’t it. But you are a wonderful nurse and together you will get through it. Be well.

  • Jodi

    May 13, 2006 at 10:37 am

    I knew right away…(I thought…ooh ooh…I know… Gallstones!)
    But was surprised at the DM diagnosis.
    I know you’re worried, but I’m not. Maybe because I had Gest. DM….But you are one heck of a Nurse! He’s got DM, which means you have a lot of educational work to do.
    Kim, he’s gonna be OK. He just has to control it. You are the best person who can show him how. If only all Diabetics had an awesome RN living with them.
    Ya’ll will be in my thoughts.

  • Kelly

    May 13, 2006 at 11:14 am

    I agree with Jodi….you’re in the best position to help him with this. You’ve seen people in diabetic shock, and you know how those who don’t watch their sugar have so many physical problems. Those images in themselves are what’s gonna help you help him.

    Don’t grieve too long….you both have work to do….so you can be happily married another 27 or so years.

    We’re behind you all the way!

  • Bushwhackedwomann

    May 13, 2006 at 11:54 am

    I am a new ED RN (dinosaur of an LPN) AND my husband has Diabetes.I completely understand the mourning and racing ahead of your mind of possible complications.

    He had DM before we met and it altered our dating and married life. My very best advice is to check his feet every single day and get diabetic sock!!Do not leave it to a man who has doctorphobia.

    DH (Dear Husband)age 42 is faithful about monitering his glucose QID, taking his meds (all 9 of them) but is lax about his feet.He got a blister from a wrinkle in his sock,which developed into an ulcer that has tunneled and we are still treating 2 months later.When the podiatrist xrayed his foot for good measure ,it was fractured and DH had not a clue!!

    Keep your head, educate your DH and as Kelly says you have work to do when the grieving is over.

  • Susan

    May 13, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Diabetes: bad. Very bad.
    Being married to a nurse when you have diabetes: Very bad for Hubby.

    He should be afraid of the OTHER D word: diet.

  • Janet

    May 13, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    So sorry for your bad news. It seems like nurses often end up with partners who don’t take care of themselves. My partner also has doctorphobia and he is known to be hypertensive and overweight. Does he do anything about it? No! And he is a nurse! I’m just waiting for our midnight trip to the ER, quite probably by ambulance. I hope all goes well with your DH.

  • kenju

    May 13, 2006 at 2:21 pm

    Kim, I am so sorry, but I know that with your help he will weather the storm. My hubs is like yours, never goes to a doc except dentist and eye doc. I am fairly sure he has high blood pressure and cholesteral. I know he has peripheral neuropathy and I suspect he may be borderline diabetic, but he WILL NOT go to a doctor. For him, gallstones would be a Godsend.

    I will keep good thoughts about you all – and hope it all comes out okay.

  • may

    May 13, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    i can so relate to the ideas that things happen to other people (read: patients!). the initial reaction is always big, and nurses are human, just like anybody else…you have evry reason to grieve…i will send you warm thoughts. hang in there…

    on a lighter note, i hope you won’torture your hubby with over the top ridiculous strictness with his diet, to the point where he wished he didn’t marry a nurse 🙂

    also, happy mopther’s day!

  • Karen

    May 13, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    So eloquently written – my heart goes out to you and your husband. The dx comes like a shock. Like everyone else has said, though, and I agree – you two will get through this. Crying is good, it can be cathartic and therapeutic. **HUGS**

    Sending good thoughts your way! I have faith that with your help, your husband’s DM will be managed well. Your strength, love, intelligence, and humor will go a long way. Congratulations to your children, by the way. 🙂

  • Delia

    May 13, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    Oh, Kim, I’m so sorry to hear about the DM dx. I haven’t seen too many lucky chole patients, but your husband is – the gallstones got him in to be seen before his glucose got up above 500, and they may have saved his life.

    He’s got you, though, and I hope he knows how lucky he is. Hugs to both of you and your kids, and I’m sending some Sooner Magic your way!

  • Mama Mia

    May 13, 2006 at 7:27 pm

    It is so hard to be on the other side of the bed!! My thoughts are with you and your hubby, but I am confident that you will find a way to make this work!

  • Teresa

    May 14, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    Kim, my thoughts are with you. I can relate to some of your feelings. Especially to your description of your reaction to the sight of your husband lying in the ER dressed in a hospital gown. My husband was also a healthy active man, a runner, when he got sick. I think it’s really difficult for the health professional to become the family member/caregiver, but your husband is lucky in the long run because you’ll make sure he’s getting the best treatment. Best to you both.

  • Shannon

    May 14, 2006 at 6:51 pm

    I’m a day or so late on this one, and I apologize. I’m sorry to hear about your husbands diagnosis. Once the initial shock wears off, I am sure you two will do wonderfully with controlling it. It’s just a speed bump.

    My father was the picture of health, too. He always said that he didn’t “do sick”. I will never forget the day of surgery down at the University of Miami. He had become jaundiced, and it was decided that he had a biliary duct blockage. They decided to do the Whipple procedure. They instead found a large tumor, and that was that. Suddenly, he DID sick. It was a shock for everyone who knew him. He, also, wore his health like a badge of honor. But, he picked himself up and fought the good fight. I have confidence that your husband will take this as a challenge. You can have a disease, but that doesn’t mean the disease has to have YOU.

    Best of luck.

  • mary

    May 15, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    The nares of your memory?

    Boy, that is a good line. You have got to write a book.

    (Occasional author here grumbling good-naturedly about not having come up with that great phrase…)

  • difficult patient

    May 15, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    OMG Kim–I’m so glad he is okay. I’ll be praying for him–and you! And congratulations on your daughter’s engagement!

  • Moof

    May 16, 2006 at 8:28 am

    Kim … I’m so sorry about your husband’s cholecystitis … and even more so about his Diabetes.

    I hope that you can both face this challenge together – which could end up being more emotional than physical … and that you can “move onward,” supporting each other along the way.

    Thinking of you.

  • kal

    May 18, 2006 at 7:34 am

    I remembered over lunch a poem I wrote after being in the ED with my partner and his father.

  • dr peg

    May 20, 2006 at 9:41 pm

    Ai yow, Kim. I feel for you. And for your husband. Double whammy. Or triple with the statin suggestion and/or bp elevation. Hard to face.

    Well written, heartfelt post. Thanks.

  • Nona

    November 29, 2006 at 12:41 am

    I will never forget the day of surgery down at the University of Miami. He had become jaundiced, and it was decided that he had a biliary duct blockage. They decided to do the Whipple procedure. They instead found a large tumor, and that was that. Suddenly, he DID sick. It was a shock for everyone who knew him. He, also, wore his health like a badge of honor.

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

Continue reading »

Find Me On...
Twitter     Technorati

Subscribe to Emergiblog

Office of the National Nurse

Zippy Was Here

Healthcare Blogger Code of Ethics

  • Perspective
  • Confidentiality
  • Disclosure
  • Reliability
  • Courtesy