I have worked long term care for a long time; standing joke at work is that I am just waiting for them to offer me a free room!
I always kind of assumed (yes I know, never assume etc etc) that after working in this environment nurses and carers become empathic with their patients.
Like most of my breed I am tired, burning out and jadedly cynical but I keep on going, why? Well here's why.
Beginning of the shift, usual thing, get report in the office. Now this office has a glass sliding panel which we can close for privacy. That night there were no patients around so it was not closed. As the report progressed there suddenly appeared, at the window, a head. An agitated head, perched on a small body, shouting in at the window with terror stricken eyes!
This was our new patient, who had only been in a day.
My colleague, an ex hospital nurse with no empathy whatsoever for dementia slammed the glass shut and said,'oh just ignore that, it's been like that all day!' The outgoing shift, who were milling about outside the office waiting to go home also ignored the plies, no words of comfort or sympathy just a 'oh we're going home attitude'.
Report continued with this agitated head popping up at the glass banging on it, shouting and crying for help. I found this very distressing and even more so because the patient was being ignored by those who were supposed to be looking after, and keeping the patient safe. I sent the carers on my shift out to try and calm the situation, much to the displeasure of the out-going nurse, but the patient would not go with them so they came back for the rest of the report.
Report finished and the other shift gone, we started our shift. The patient had disappeared down the corridor. I had barely got the drug trolleys out of the drug room when the patient appeared again. crying ,screaming ,very ,very frightened. I went to the patient and asked.' why are you crying'. It turned out that the patient was frightened of the other patients who also wandered the corridors, under the illusion that this was the patient's house and could not understand why these strangers were invading the house. Poor thing! I then set about the task of trying to orient the patient to where this was and why there were others here. The patient calmed down a bit. Just then one of our more vocal patients started up shouting and making those noises that are so frequently heard among the demented. Frightened again the patient just wanted to get away. I took the patient to their room, to a place of safety in a strange and confusing world. Immediately I opened the door the patient calmed, recognising own belongings, pictures on the walls and ornaments on the table. The patient began to tell me about the people in the pictures and in minutes were all smiles, calm and happy.
The 'buzz' I felt from helping to calm down this distressed person was like a tonic to my soul! This is why I keep doing this job, putting up with the never-ending paperwork, the demands for more and more efficiency with less and less resources, the pay that does not quite meet the demands of living. I can make a difference in their lives, and they certainly make a difference in mine.
At change of shift I made very sure that the patient would not just be ignored again, making it plain that the patient needed to return to a place of safety to be able to calm down and rest that poor, confused mind. I also documented this in the plan of care so that on- coming shifts would not just ignore the patient as well.