For the first time in my internship, I felt useless.
A gentle hand fell on my shoulder, and a kind voice whispered in my ear: “slow it down”. With that my mentor walked away.
I wish he had yelled. I wish he had been angry. At least that way I could get defensive, distract myself from my mistakes.
I walked back to the truck, and began to restock the gear we had used.
Our patient was an 80 year old male. We had been called for him being short of breath. We arrived and found him pale, with a blood pressure through the roof and buckets of fluid in his lungs (part of a condition called pulmonary oedema). His wife frantically rushing around and trying to help.
Also I should mention, the dude was deaf as a door post. So our attempts at thorough history taking was useless.
Our patient was deteriorating. He had waited hours to call us. The muscles driving his breathing were failing due to fatigue. His blood chemistry was becoming acidic. Even with supplemental oxygen on, he was dying.
We do our best to manage the scene. It’s a tiny bedroom, with too many people in it. We’ve stabilised him for now. But this guy is sicker than we can handle. Me especially.
And of course he’s refusing to leave until he can go to the toilet (a down side of the medications he’s on for heart failure). But he’s too sick to take off the oxygen.
So I’m fumbling down the hall, trying to carry the oxygen. Trying to sort through the monitor cables, the IV line, the oxygen tubing and keep our patient from tripping over them.
And that’s pretty much how this whole job went. With me fumbling. Dropping things. Not clearing things up. Driving too fast and making life in the back hell for the guys treating our patient.
And the sinking feeling sets in. The one where a pit forms in your stomach, that you want to fall into. The one that makes you doubt all your decisions and your competency.
If you’ve ever had one of these moments, I’m sure you know how tempting it is to sit in this. Whether conciously or sub-conciously to continue to blame yourself and lament in how you should have done better.
Dietrich BonHoeffer (an awesome dude you should find out about if you don’t already know him) describes it like this:
Selfish. (To be honest I’d kinda hoped for something more profound than this as my first reference to BonHoeffer).
To bask in self-pity does no one any good. It will not grow you as a person. It will not solve the problems you may or may not have caused.
It impedes progress and prevents responsibility, from yourself and your colleagues.
It also makes you and absolute git and incredibly unpleasant to be around.
So whilst I wallowed in self pity longer than I should have, when I got back in the truck we deconstructed the job. We walked through it. We worked through the mistakes.
I learned from my mistakes and that made me a better practitioner.
No patients died that day due to my failures.
No prize fighters are born without taking a few punches.
So if you’re ever tempted to dwell on your sins, don’t. It not only doesn’t do anyone any good. It holds you back.