One of the things that first drew me to nursing was that nurses get to be a part of some of a patient’s most important moments. You know, like being there to help deliver a baby, or holding the hand of an elderly patient as they pass into the next life. But in addition to getting to be there for those important moments, nurses also get to be present for the smaller moments that patients may not even remember—and sometimes it’s those memories that stick with us forever. That said, here are three stories from my career where I’ll never forget the impact my patients had on me:
The patient who is always talking about his family and then, out of the blue, tells you all the things he wishes he had done differently because he won’t have a chance to do them now.
As a nurse, you’re more than accustomed to being surrounded by death and dying. But it can be hard to deal with when you see someone who is dying.
There are many factors that lead up to the decision to die in hospice: some people have been given a terminal diagnosis; some people haven’t had enough time left on Earth; some people just want their loved ones around them as they pass.
Regardless of what brought this patient into hospice care or how long they have left, it’s important not to ignore the emotions they’re feeling while they’re here—especially since this may be their last chance at saying goodbye in person before passing on. Even if you don’t know exactly what that means for your day-to-day nursing duties (but let’s face it—you probably do), talking through the emotional side of things will help both sides understand each other better and make for an overall better experience for everyone involved.*
Now would also be an appropriate time point out how much my brother would LOVE all these puns!
The patient who asks where you’re from over and over again, even though you’ve just told them three times.
When patients ask nurses where they’re from over and over again, it can be difficult to know how to respond. Some may try to make a joke or brush it off as an attempt at small talk. But the truth is that this question means something much more meaningful than just idle chitchat: The patient is trying to feel more comfortable around you.
The patient may be bored, anxious, or even stressed out by their current situation—and asking about your origins gives them an opportunity for a brief reprieve from whatever’s going on in their head. In some cases, this might also be an attempt by the patient to make an effort toward getting closer with their caregiver—to let them know that they care about having a good relationship with them beyond simply helping each other through medical crises.
The patient that asks for a glass of water and then falls asleep as soon as you give it to them.
This patient is comfortable. They’re sleeping, but not in a way that makes you feel like you need to wake them up. They’re just resting peacefully and trusting that you’ll take care of things if anything happens. You can see this in the way they’re breathing evenly, or how they are relaxed even though they haven’t moved for hours on end. This patient has come to trust you, and trust is something that’s hard to achieve with people who are sick or hurting. As nurses, we want nothing more than for our patients’ health and well-being—and sometimes, even their very lives!—to be taken care of by someone who cares about them as much as possible; someone who will do whatever it takes to make sure all their needs are met during such an emotionally taxing time in their lives…
The patient that asks for help going to the bathroom but then keeps getting up and walking around the room without telling you.
Let’s get one thing straight: if a patient asks for help going to the bathroom and then keeps getting up and walking around the room without telling you, it’s not laziness on their part. Patients who have dementia can be confused, afraid of losing control over their bodies or embarrassed about having to ask for help. Some patients may also be afraid of being alone, which can lead them to wander off at night when they think no one is watching.
If you’re dealing with a patient who seems disoriented or confused about what’s happening around them, take some time to talk through their feelings with them so that they understand why they need assistance with certain tasks. This will help your relationship develop into one based on trust—and trust is vital when working as a caregiver!
The patient that made your day because they just keep smiling at everything.
In the world of being a nurse, there are many patients that make your day. The patient who just keeps smiling at everything. The patient who asks for a movie and then laughs when you say yes. Or the patient who calls you by your name each time they see you and asks how things are going; these patients can be very hard to deal with because they make it so easy for us to give our best care possible.
If all patients were like these examples, I would have no problem being an RN!
Patients are human beings and nurses are human beings, too.
The reason why I’m crying is because these patients are human beings and these nurses are also human beings.
Nurses are people too. Patients are people too. It can be easy to forget that sometimes, but it’s true!
Patients are being cared for by other people who have feelings like they do, just like you can be a patient someday and need someone else to care for you!
Nurses are strong people. They have to be. But sometimes, it’s hard not to let a patient’s courage, grace or showing of love get to you. When that happens, don’t beat yourself up over it! Don’t show weakness in front of our patients, and don’t hold it in where you can talk about it with your fellow nurses—but never be ashamed of being human.