Actually, our young patient – he was only in his teens – should have been doing much better. He came in as an emergency with a ruptured spleen. This is extremely dangerous because those affected can bleed to death. He underwent surgery, followed later by follow-up surgery. After abdominal surgery, the organs should rest, so we start slowly: first water, then soup, later porridge and gradually the food can become solid again. We followed this procedure this time too. But the boy kept complaining of nausea, which increased throughout the day until he finally had to vomit.
He was given painkillers and something to combat nausea several times. He ate far too little compared to his level of nausea – he vomited three liters in one night. A new ultrasound, which would have shown possible complications such as a twisted intestine, did not reveal any new information. He was given laxatives – something that is avoided as long as possible, especially in very young people. We tried to make the boy as comfortable as possible, because the surroundings could possibly have explained his nausea. That doesn’t exist, I thought to myself at the time. What was going on there?
When I brought him breakfast one morning after he had been with us for a good week, he said to me: “Pola, I’m going to eat everything today!” I was irritated because that wasn’t necessary. I told him that too: He should just eat as much as he can manage.
Half a roll later the boy began to cry terribly. It was so moving that it reached deep under my skin. I sat down next to him and hugged him as best I could. When he was able to speak again, he revealed to me that he was incredibly homesick. That’s why he wanted to eat so he could finally go home. Although his parents were with him almost all the time every day, physical closeness was difficult because of all the cables, tubes and pain. The boy especially wanted to really hug his little brother again. Instead, he was plagued by a guilty conscience – “no, I don’t have time for you now,” he would have said that to him far too often.
Suddenly he asked me: “Could it be that I’m always so sick because I’m homesick?” Yes, that could be a good thing. This is called hospitalism: If people are in clinics or homes for a long time, if they experience neglect or sensory overload, if they lack physical contact, then this can manifest itself in physical, emotional or social symptoms. This is particularly common with children.
Crying felt good for the boy, as if a burden had been lifted from him – sometimes problems need to be given a name before things can get better. We then went for a walk again, this time we made it to the terrace. In the afternoon we were finally able to transfer him to the normal ward.
Pola Gülberg is an intensive care nurse. In this column, the 39-year-old talks every week about her work at the district clinic in Ebersberg. The collected texts are below sueddeutsche.de/thema/Auf Station to find.