By LCdr. (Ret.) Nikki Selby, RN, BSN, CEN
As a new nurse, my first assignment was on the oncology floor. This wasn't my first choice, but in the military you don't always get your choice.
I had no experience with cancer patients other than a few family members who had passed away from various types. I thought the floor would be made up of patients who were possibly older - retirees since I was in a military hospital.
Most of my patients ended up being quite young. That was hard to accept. Many were barely adults and had some horrific types of cancer to include every leukemia, bone and brain cancers.
On one of my first patient assignments, I was working a night shift. I received report from the off-going nurse. The young man in his 20's had osteosarcoma in his arm. The previous shift was having a difficult time controlling his pain. I thought okay, I'll go in and do my initial assessment and give him some more pain medication.
As I approached his room, the door was closed but I heard a loud whimpering. I opened the door to an image I'll never forget. His mother was holding him, rocking him in her arms as he was holding his head (the cancer had spread to his brain) crying in pain. My immediate thought process was to turn and run away. Tears immediately shot to my eyes as I could relate as a mother wanting nothing other than to take your child's pain away. His mom looked at me, begging me with her eyes to do something. I told her I would check his orders and be right back with something, anything.
I went into the Med room scared. I just stood there and tried to breathe. I couldn't let this family see how upset I was. I looked through his medication profile and realized they had thrown pretty much everything but the kitchen sink at him to control his pain. What could I possibly do as a new nurse?
The answer I would learn was absolutely nothing. Anesthesia had to get involved and basically sedate him, completely knock him out to control the pain. He didn't survive much longer after that. The image of his mother holding him and rocking him as he screamed and cried in pain will be one that will haunt me to this day. This was just the first of many young men and women I would encounter during my short time on the oncology floor.