Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Blood Bag Blues

It's been a very long day. The somber cacophony of suctions sucking, Bovies burning, Airshields ventilators chugging , instruments clanging, and surgeons bellowing has decrescendoed to a strange and rare moment of blissful silence. Those weary legs wobble like Jello as they acclimate to an absence of weight bearing stress. The impending fatigue unleashes a contemplative frame of mind so different from the acute attentiveness  required of a scrub nurse busily loading needle holders and delivering the exact required instrument at the exact right time. My mind sometimes fixated on the remaining flotsam and jetsam scattered about the tiled temple as I planned my clean up activities.

Drained of their miraculous magenta contents, empty blood bags are neatly stacked sit on the anesthetist's  gas machine awaiting their round trip journey back to the hospital blood bank. The few remaining droplets of blood form an intricate spider web design visible through the transparent container that always reminded me of stained glass. The drained bags are now a component of the detritus remaining as an artefact of the previous surgical adventure with their own tale to tell.

Artefacts and relics mean different things to different people when their intended function has ended. I thought many times how strange it sounded to keep blood in a  "bank," but then I began to figure it out. Some of my very best insights occur when fatigued and sleep deprived as that caffeinated jolt works it's magic.

Blood bank CEOs and commercial bankers have much in common. Blood banks rely on the innate goodness of volunteer donors  whose reward might be a glass of orange juice and a stale cookie. Bankers of money pay paltry sums of interest to the hapless savers and charge exorbitant fees to credit card users. Blood bank CEOs and bankers reap their massive  salaries and stock options on the backs of little people just trying to do the right thing. In nursing it always felt as if large sums of money flowed  right around me much the same as the  blood in a suction tubing. Nursing and donating blood is a waste of time if you are doing it for the money. It may sound strange, but I always felt a sense of pity for the greed consumed CEOs lounging in their administrative playgrounds. They probably never had the warm feeling that comes upon you when really helping someone at a critical time in their life.

Blood had almost magical qualities when transfusions went well and the source of blood loss could be corrected. Used blood bags always had redundancy in miniscule sticky labels with an identification number. There were always plenty of these little stickers left over even when all the documentation was complete. I tried to keep the good juju times a rolling with these little stickers by sticking them on the back of my name badge or wrapped around the earpiece of my trusty stethoscope. I don't really know if they helped, but when times were tough, I could cheer my spirits with a quick glance at the back of my name badge.


  1. All smiles here ~ I know the impulse ~

  2. Blood bags always made me stop and think about misguided times when blood was segregated by race. To someone hemorrhaging that would likely be the least of their concerns.

  3. Well said in your last line in the fourth paragraph OFRN. I remember the first time I actually managed to save a patient's life - a surgeon (currently a patient) who for some reason had been left alone in a side room with a fever so critical he was hallucinating and bordering on seizure...

    Only in my first months of training I tepid sponged that man for what seemed like forever until I had his temp normal... I was later told that when recovered he went to the Director of Nursing to express his gratitude to the nurse who cared for him that night.

    The best thing was, walking out of the hospital going off duty that night, I felt like I had wings! Being a nurse and helping people was the best feeling ever.

    I still remember many years later, on the evening of September 9/11, after watching all that horror on television during the day, on night duty in palliative care I was gently washing and trying to soothe a lady in terrible discomfort and tossing and turning from the heat... a little while afterwards I checked and she was at last peacefully sleeping... I wondered how people could ever think violence and killing (such as I had witnessed that morning on our television screens) solved anything, when it was kindness and caring that made you feel your life was worthwhile and had meaning. Knowing I had made a suffering person more comfortable was just the best feeling... it's what makes nursing worthwhile, it's what you do it for.

    The things about nursing that are my best memories are the times I felt I made a difference - at age 18, holding the hand of a dying girl aged 15 who, frightened, asked me to stay with her long after my shift had ended. Comforting a young mother who was dying and crying because her two year old twin boys would not remember her... what a privilege, how incredibly humbling, to be the one entrusted with care at such times.

    I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. Sue.

    1. Very well said, Sue. I've relished reading your comment. Nursing was the one unifying element in my life. There are so many divisive elements in society today and nursing, for me, brought a sense of unifying peacefulness. Sometimes I needed the patients more than they needed me.

    2. Absolutely OFRN! There was also the knowledge you become what you had hoped to be - a competent nurse. By my early thirties, after years of psych nursing, then working for several years on a vascular surgery ward, I realised I had developed pretty darn sound clinical judgment. I had learnt the truism that if your gut feeling tells you something isn't right, it isn't. I felt confident. And I knew I absolutely loved my job. I hadn't married and had children, and I think the patients often fulfilled my need to nurture. In fact, coming from a fairly unloving home life, I suspect nursing filled my need to feel needed.

      None of which could have happened without superb training, the many fine nurses I worked with (and the bad ones who taught me what NOT to be!) and the camerarderie and laughter that helped everyone get through the tough times. (And some great get-togethers and appalling practical jokes with the medical/surgical staff - and I learnt that Irish nurses hold the best parties!)

      I owe so much also to the cleaners, tea ladies and nursing aides at my training hospital (those people traditionally "at the bottom"- mostly Italian and Greek migrants with little English and hearts of pure gold) who were without fail so kind and supportive and long suffering (and especially, one little elderly Italian cleaning lady in the Nurse's Home who managed to urge this junior nurse who was about to resign after a truly horrendous day to keep going instead - bless her to this day for her kindness as I sat weeping on the stairs!

      I think I always loved night duty for the reasons you mentioned - I'd look out the windows at a largely sleeping city (Sydney was pretty small in those days!)and marvel that I was in this place that didn't sleep, where nurses moved about quietly, patients were comforted, a whole little world that kept chugging on through the night caring for people. I loved that.

      I've waxed lyrical for far too long. Excuse me for keeping you! Goodness. How I do rave on. Cheers, S.

  4. Your comments, Sue, are the best pat of my day. I appreciate your sharing!

  5. Aw thank you OFRN. I am impressed by your knowledge - and how you remember so much so well! Your posts are always fascinating. Sue

  6. If you Google Royal North Shore Hospital Graduate Nurses Association Facebook you should find the link to my old training hospital facebook page - it doesn't have a lot as we have all gone off to other places I think - but we really did wear the veils (and those brown Hall's lace-up nurses' duty shoes - and did they hurt!) and the photo of Sister Carol Brydges is sad as she was one of my most loved tutor sisters. The stone building with the mauve wisteria growing around it was our nurse's home - demolished some years ago sadly. Sue.

  7. Thanks, Sue, I really like your pin...oops I mean badge. The royal looking crown really sets it off. The RNS museum looks like a fascinating place. I just love medical/surgical museums and spent lots of time at the International Museum of Surgery in Chicago. Voices from the past always fascinated me. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I had never thought about the crown on our badge OFRN - it's so interesting to get another perspective. I guess it's because we still belonged to the British Empire and swore allegiance to the Queen. (I even remember Empire Day when I was a young girl because we got little Union Jack flags to wave and best of all, got a half day off school!) It seems almost unbelievable now.

    I was always disappointed it was a bit plain compared to some other badges (pins!) but it did stand out against those white starched aprons...

    What scares me is that so much in that nursing museum looks familiar ... reminds me how dated I am becoming! Sue.

  9. I too, would be right at home working at a hospital that looked just like your museum. One of the things missing from the health care world of today is the authoritative, solid feel of equipment made of glass or metal. Plastic seems so toy-like.