[One of the many great submissions to the Those Emergency Blues Prize for Writing. Posted here with permission.]
Hugs And Kleenex
When I was working as an ER Tech during nursing school, I had the pleasure of meeting a great nurse named Johnny. Johnny had immigrated from Laos as a child and had a great perspective on life. The night I met him we were struggling with an elderly lady who had a severe reaction to Phenergan. She was post fall and having nausea, so the Dr gave her Phenergan, which immediately made her totally crazy and extremely strong. My job was to take the combative patient to CT, put on a lead apron, and make sure she stayed still for the scan. In addition, I was charged with keeping her grown daughter calm. Johnny watched me and talked to me about it during a smoke break: he smoked and I listened to him talk. He said that he could train a chimpanzee to put in a Foley or start an IV, but compassion was not so easily taught. He told me he thought I would make a good nurse, precious words for a nursing student discouraged by intimidating professors.
At times I think compassion is underrated, sometimes even disdained. Nurses can often be sarcastic and snarky when we talk about supporting patients emotionally or bonding with patients. I’ve gotten the “Well…I wish I had time to just sit and listen to patients talk, but I’m busy actually giving care” from other nurses, as if all I do is sit around and chat and neglect my other duties. We are of course encouraged to be nice and empathetic in nursing school, but also to keep a professional distance. As NurseXY mentioned in a recent blog, this professional distance is taught early on in order to ensure that our decision making abilities are not clouded by our closeness to the patient. I can see the point, but I think, as he wrote as well, for many nurses it is sometimes impossible not to get emotionally close to a patient, especially if you are dealing with them in a setting where they are with you for weeks or months.
I have worked in ER, Preop, and PACU, places where we are with patients for a matter of hours, not days. However, we are with them at such a vulnerable time, where emotions are heightened considerably. We have interactions that I will certainly never forget.
Just this past Friday I was present when an elderly woman had a conversation with her daughter, son, and pastor debating whether to have surgery or if it was time to just stop fighting. All I did was provide the Kleenex and some hugs, but it was a privilege to witness the love and strength of this family.
That same day I took care of a man who came directly from his family doctor’s office to the hospital to have major stomach and colon surgery, definitely not how he had been planning to spend his day. He was keeping up a stoic appearance. His wife walked over to the side of the room to use her phone to notify family members of the situation. I noticed that she had stepped over to the entrance of the unit to where the curtains were blocking her from her husband’s sight. She was quietly crying. I went to her with Kleenex (again). She told me that she was just in shock and could not imagine losing her husband. I hugged her and just listened. It is an honor to help hold people up in their time of crisis and need. I am in awe of the fortitude of so many of these patients and their families. If I can provide just a tiny bit of support, just a little bit of warmth to help fuel them through this incredibly challenging time, I am privileged beyond belief.