A View From the Other Side of the Bed

Guest Blog By 1LT Helen Perry


You see so many things from the other side of the bed.

The hurt.

The pain.

The grief for the life someone thought they were going to live.

When the media walks through and does an interview- it’s a superficial understanding of what’s really going on.

Being on the other side of the bed means knowing the future before the patient or doctor does.

 You’re the first one to see the lab result showing the infection is back…

The first one to see the radiology report stating more necrosis, or a bigger tumor…

You’re the first one to identify that the long-prayed-for skin graft isn’t taking hold…

You know all the intimate details of all the bad things that happen…

Sexual assaults, abuse, rape, infidelity, abuse of power, child abuse, the explosion down range, blue-on-blue…you name it…

We know about it.

It’s hard to know these things.

It’s hard to know what’s happening with the budget.

Knowing that someone’s physical therapy time will be cut an hour short a week because the budget can’t support the longer operation hours.

It’s hard to know that patients will no longer be able to talk to someone in person when they have problems with their appointments- instead they will call and wait in a never-ending phone tree of, “press 3 for inpatient, Press 4 for behavior health”.

The other side of the bed means having to tell a dozen little green lies.

I would call them white, but it’s the military that pushes these, “press release” responses. “Why yes, he’s a great doctor” or “You know, I’m not really sure why they operated on the left leg instead of the right, let me call and ask for you”.

Instead of what you want to say—

                                       Someone screwed up.

The other side of the bed means staying, “Professional”.

I once saw a civilian nurse take care of patient who was a double arm amputee. When she would go in his room to set up his meal tray – she would set his food just out of his reach and then leave the room. I walked in once while this little torture act was taking place. He could hardly speak and his family wasn’t around. When I called her out on it she told me it was for his own good- because he had to “learn” how to reach his food.

The other side of the bed means staying professional when all you want to do is punch another nurse in the face.

Or when you want to slap the Generals wife for demanding a private room for her routine surgery-

            “Do you know WHO I AM!?”

No. And I don’t care.

Once, while in the midst of a severe supply shortage and critical understaffing, we had a General admitted to the floor I was working on. Regular patients were doing without and nurses were taking on too many patients- but senior leadership made a special trip up to ask if the general had, “gotten the special toilet paper”.

              EXCUSE ME!?

“I can’t get an extra leg brace for a soldier that needs it-or proper staffing- but the General can get Cottonell 3 ply toilet paper!?”

             What kind of twisted priorities are these?

The other side of the bed means taking a dozen surveys a year that ask you if your, “burned out” or “feel distressed” about the things you’ve been asked to do.

These surveys are a joke

Because the truth is- we’re all burned out. If you’re reading this thinking you’re not burned out-

            Don’t worry…

Your time will come.

And to be honest- when they do see how many of us are “Reaching Burn Out”- not a damn thing changes.

The other side of the bed means not taking leave in over 2 years- because we don’t get block leave, and the hospital “mission” always has to come first. But don’t worry- your boss has already taken leave twice this month. And despite all that -we continue to do the job with a smile on our face.


             Because someone’s life depends on it.

The other side of the bed means dreading presidential visits- because it means all the elevators will be shut down –And unlike the 4th floor- where it’s all smiles and pictures- the 5th floor still has work to do. The world doesn’t even know the 5th floor exists.

That’s where you go when you’re not a new patient anymore…

Where the wounded warriors from previous wars go to get their care…

Where nurses are working with half the supplies and double the patients…

Where patients ask if they are being “punished” or if they “did something wrong” and that’s why they are on the 5th floor.

The 5th floor nurses deserve a lot more credit than they get.

The other side of the bed wears on you.

It makes your heart ache because you’ve seen too much.

The other side of the bed has all the conversations no one else wants to have…

The pain it takes to have a discussion with someone that, yes- having worked on a burn ICU- you do actually know what burning flesh smells like- and discussing the subtle differences between the ways shrapnel wound feels/looks vs. a clean amputation. The terms hamburger meat vs rump roast have come up more than once.

The other side of the bed means having a sick-calloused- sense of-humor.

Being able to laugh at some of the saddest things- because honestly- humor is the only defense your soul has left.

Because if you really let these things take a hold of your heart- you would already be lost…

So we drive on…

We stay strong….

And every day you debate whether you want to continue doing this…

Whether it’s worth it…

Whether you make a difference

Whether you will actually be able to change any of the insurmountable politics that plagues this military occupation.

And you doubt yourself…

And you think about all the what ifs….

And you think about all the mistakes you’ve made…

And you think about all the patients you’ve lost….

And then one day you come to work and there’s the one person who actually points out- sincerely- that today… this day… you saved a life. You made a difference.

So you hang on…

And you keep going…

Because the difference they talk about…

It’s the difference between life and death…

And whatever minuscule difference you do make… it’s a life.

It’s the life IN the bed that can only be appreciated this way from the other side of it.


 About 1LT Helen Perry:

1LT Helen Perry is an active duty Army Nurse currently assigned to Fort Stewart GA. She has a background in surgical, emergency and critical care nursing and has worked and trained in both civilian and military hospitals including Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center, Winn Army Community Hospital and multiple other hospitals in her hometown of Northwest Arkansas. Her husband is currently serving on active duty with the United States Marine Corps and her plan is to pursue medical school for Emergency Medicine/Trauma and continue to give back to military members and their families.

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The views expressed in this article at those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OPW57 Board or the organization as a whole.

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