Well, hi there! How are you today? How are things going? Are you feeling well? Eating enough? Taking in enough fluids? And, how are your chemotherapy treatments going?
Just a few of the many usual, impersonal (and invasive) questions I must ask my patients within ear shot of several other patients. Some answers are short, sweet, and to the point. Some people just want a blanket, a pillow, and a closed curtain – some alone time to nap, and to be away from the world for a few hours. And that is O.K.!
But then there are others. And this week, I think I met all of the others…
“How am I? How am I? I’m an emotional mess!” followed by some forced, quiet laughter. “I’m leaving later this week to drive my son across the country for four years of college. He’s my only child. I wasn’t prepared for this. I don’t think I can do it!” Tears followed…
“My son is a second-year resident in a big hospital. He’s so tired, on call all of the time, not getting enough sleep. I don’t think he’s eating well either. He called crying after he delivered a stillborn baby. I’m so worried about my son.”
“I was feeling sorry for myself, until I heard a toddler crying. Is that toddler getting chemo too? This isn’t fair. Now I feel awful.”
“The treatments didn’t work. I thought I was finished, but I’m not. They want to try a new, more aggressive medication. So I guess I’ll still be seeing you every week.”
“The doctor told me that I’ll never have children. I have to have a complete hysterectomy. I’ve always wanted to have children. My husband is so sad.”
“I’m angry, that’s what! I thought I was going to be done at some point, but this is beginning to feel like a full time job that I’ll never be allowed to retire from! I yelled at my darling husband of 43 years and he didn’t do anything wrong! I’m just angry today! And I want my hair back!”
“I’m scared. What if I die? Who is going to take care of (and LOVE) my children??”
“Please help me find some happy music to listen to on the days of my treatment. I need some happy music!”
“My treatments are not fun. But I compare everything to the death of my son. The loss of my baby boy hurt so badly, that I decided nothing could be worse than that, so I just keep going, because this is NOTHING compared to losing my child!”
Pulling up a chair, closing the curtain, making some eye contact, forgetting for just a few minutes that there’s anything else going on, and some good care including a genuine ear that listens, some physical contact like a prolonged hand hold, and some vulnerability from me by being sincerely honest when I don’t have an answer for that question all of us have at one time or another, “why?” This is what I really believe every nurse looooongs deep in their heart and soul to do!
But there’s no time anymore. And there seems to be less and less time, all of the time. And there IS no time because way, way up at the top somewhere over a rainbow, or somewhere else, people sitting behind a screen at a desk, probably working from the comforts of their home, have forgotten what really matters. Or, maybe they never knew what matters.
During my time as a home hospice nurse, a physician once ended an important, crucial call with a colleague of mine with, “You just wasted five minutes of MY LIFE!” That physician made me want to STAY at what she considered to be the very bottom of the healthcare pool… as a bedside nurse. Because as a bedside nurse, I’m reminded by my patients who answer my assessment questions with their honest and sincere heartaches and fears – This is where I can choose to let everything go on around me while I close the curtain and pull up a chair nice and close so I’m no longer hovering over, looking down at my patient, but looking eye-to-eye and letting them know I think they are my ONLY patient right now, because in that moment – they are. Every time I give an extra five minutes to my patients, I remember that sad soul of a doctor, and thank God for that wisdom I gained that day. And I’m glad to give them those five minutes of my life!
I confess. It’s hard – you bet. But do you know what’s harder? It’s harder to rush right through like a waitress delivering soups, salads, and sodas to multiple tables, and then driving home, and wishing I’d have taken time to LISTEN to my patients, even if it meant punching out a little bit late. I’d rather punch out an hour late knowing I gave excellent care and and my patients felt loved and encouraged, than get out on time and regret not listening to the fears and heartaches my patient may not have felt comfortable sharing with ANYONE else but a nurse.
If the nurse who winked at my Dad when he was in hospice, hadn’t winked at my Dad, I’m not sure I’d be a nurse today. I owe it to her to keep pulling up that chair, no matter what. (And thankfully, I have a carpool partner who feels the same way, and she doesn’t mind if we both have to stay late because we used our TIME wisely either!).
And sometimes, I just gotta come home and put my phone on “Do Not Disturb,” just to reflect on what I’ve seen today in my “school shoes.” Sometimes, it helps me put my own life’s issues into perspective and remember just how blessed I am.
So to my fellow nurses – don’t forget what matters most – PEOPLE! And keep pulling up those chairs; I promise, you’ll NEVER feel like it was five minutes of your life wasted. Never, ever!