September is Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month. Therefore, it seems fitting to write this blog post. Sickle Cell disease (SCD) is a genetically inherited disease that causes red blood cells to sickle, resembling a quarter moon. When this happens, the sickled cells get stuck in tiny blood vessels slowing down blood flow or cutting it off all together. This will lead to tissues and organs being deprived of oxygen resulting in pain. SCD in the United States affects primarily people of African ancestry.
As a young nurse, I was exposed to individuals with SCD on the medical/oncology unit I worked on. I can remember being a little nervous, because folks suffering with SCD at times experience uncontrollable pain. And it didn’t make matters any better that the more seasoned nurses referred to them as “demanding.”
Well, I got through my first day of taking care of a young woman in her twenties. To keep the peace, I made certain I was attentive to her every need. This included making sure she received her pain meds on time, stayed well hydrated and checking on her frequently.
Surprisingly, my day hadn’t gone bad at all. And from that day forward, I no longer had those nervous jitters when caring for these patients. As the months passed, a special bond had begun to form between myself and sickle cell patients. I’d listened as they shared their stories of being mistreated by the medical community. They told me of how they were often accused of being “drug seekers” and “drug addicts” simply because they required narcotic pain medications to relief their pain. Their stories compelled me to step in to the shoes of advocate. They needed someone to be their voice; and that’s what I became. This always didn’t make me popular with others in the medical community.
The incident that sealed my fate, igniting a passion so strong letting me know this was my calling, was beyond devastating. I was taking care of a young man, not much older than myself at the time. His pain was so excruciating that he was on all fours and crying like a wounded animal. With the tenacity of a bulldog, I hounded the doctor to order a dose of medication that would get his pain to a level that was tolerable. Thank God, the doctor was agreeable.
I stayed with my patient providing therapeutic touch until the medication began to work. Once he settled down and drifted off to sleep, I eased out the room. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough! I found myself a corner and proceeded to breakdown into a sobbing mess! You see, it was heartbreaking to watch that man suffer, and reduced to such a vulnerable state all because of a tiny, sickled red blood cell. I became angry, questioning God how and why He could allow something like this to happen?
That experience over twenty years ago has never left me. I believe God put me in that place, at that time, with that patient, to show me what my calling as a nurse and now nurse practitioner would be. I love what I do, but more than that, I love my patients. Standing up for them hasn’t always been easy. At many times I was isolated, disrespected and faced blatant racism. However, I never gave up and held on to God’s promise, that when the enemy come in like a flood He will lift up a standard against him – Isaiah 59:19.
Because of my love and dedication, in 2003 God blessed me with the opportunity to be an integral part of designing a day unit/hospital for SCD patients at one of the top teaching hospitals in the nation. In this special unit the patient doesn’t have to go to the emergency room and wait for hours to be treated. And they can avoid hospital admissions so that their lives aren’t interrupted as much.
Not only did I have a say so in the project, I was giving the task and responsibility of managing the staff, running the day to day operations of the unit, as well as providing direct patient care. As a nurse practitioner, I don’t have to wait around on someone else to manage my patients’ pain and/or diagnosis and treat acute primary care issues. It’s the best feeling in the world when someone comes in at a pain level of 10 out of 10 and by the end of the day they’re walking out at a 3 out 10. The goal isn’t always to get them to a 0 out of 10, but to a level they can manage.
Let me get back to the young man who started me on this journey of answering my call. The next day when I returned to work he was doing much better. When he saw me, he profusely thanked me for all I had done for him. He and I developed a beautiful nurse-patient relationship until he lost his battle with SCD.
Answering God’s calling to serve individuals with SCD has truly been a blessing. For more information on SCD check out this link: http://www.sicklecelldisease.org/
Until Next Time,