My Most Humbling Nursing Experience

by cienurse

14,062 Visits | 22 Comments

Nursing is a very busy and rewarding career. During my 36 years, I have had many experiences in which I have been exhilarated, saddened, overwhelmed, and just plain exhausted. None, however, compare to the night that I was humbled right in the place I stood at the bedside of a young man who was dying of AIDS. Here is that story:

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    My Most Humbling Nursing Experience

    Nursing is a very busy and rewarding career. During my 36 years, I have had many experiences in which I have been exhilarated, saddened, overwhelmed, and just plain exhausted. None, however, compare to the night that I was humbled right in the place I stood at the bedside of a young man who was dying of AIDS. Here is that story:

    I was working full time on the night shift at a chronic care hospital. Most of the patients I was taking care of were in the end stages of HIV infection, most with accompanying dementia and behaviors which were out of their control. These patients did not sleep through the night; there were many with med-seeking behaviors, belligerence, cigarette privileges which went through the night time hours, in addition to physical limitations such as insomnia and incontinence that come with end stage disease process.

    Sadly, most of the patients were under the age of 40 and the job was more emotionally draining than physical, particularly when one of these young persons died.

    There was one patient in particular, a 26 year old male, who seemed always to be arguing with staff, refusing his HIV medications while demanding more and more pain medications, and disturbing the unit often enough to elicit many complaints from the other patients. When he didn’t get his way, he would call the staff vulgar names in a very loud voice, would spit at staff, and become physically aggressive. I had to keep reminding myself that he was very young and very sick, and was extremely angry at life and was facing his own mortality.

    Still, I would dread going to work at night, knowing that this young man would be up half the night, screaming obscenities until he got what he wanted, either medication, cigarettes, or take-out food. To put it bluntly, he was not my favorite patient and it was a real effort to provide care for him objectively and non-judgementally on a consistant basis.

    One evening, I arrived for my shift at 10:45 p.m. as usual. As I was putting away my belongings in my locker, one of the 3-11 nurses came in to the locker room and told me they were having a problem with this particular patient and could I please come and help them. I remember that I rolled my eyes and reluctantly followed the nurse into this young man’s room. There were 2 other staff members who were gowned, gloved, and masked trying to remove sweat pants from this patient, who had been incontinent of a large, bloody stool. His body was limp and he was barely breathing. I gowned up and moved to one side of the bed to assist in turning him over so that we could clean him, all the while wondering what had happened.

    As the nurse on the other side of the bed rolled him toward me, he was so weak and limp that I put my arm under his head to cradle it while easing his lower body over onto his side. He was so thin! I looked down into his eyes while my arm cradled his head. He seemed to look up at me with eyes that were half closed and then…….this young man took his last breath and passed away!

    My eyes immediately began to fill up with tears-I felt I had just been sent a message from a power higher than myself, reminding me why I had become a nurse in the first place: to provide care and comfort to the sick, to heal when I could, to provide comfort when I couldn’t, and to practice nursing in a compassionate and non-judgmental way. To this day, when I encounter a difficult resident, I always remember that experience and, instead of becoming annoyed, I treat that resident with extra patience, kindness, and compassion.
    Last edit by Joe V on Oct 13, '12
    MistiroseRN, LTCangel, 1213_RN, and 24 others like this.
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    22 Comments so far...

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    Thank-you for the insightful story. I have been combating compassion fatigue lately (probably from working overnight shift with minimal staffing) and this story reminds me why I got into nursing also.
    turnforthenurseRN and anotherone like this.
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    Love this, absolutely beautiful! I have had my own experiences that I revert to every time I start feeling that lack of compassion..
    MistiroseRN likes this.
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    I don't know. I feel like the moral of this story is that even patients who are raging tools die. Everyone has to die eventually. Even Hitler died. I'm certain that you could have lovingly cradled Hitler's head in your arms as he passed away. Doesn't make the patient any more or less of a unkind person.
    Last edit by JustBeachyNurse on Oct 18, '12 : Reason: ToS choice of language
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    In some ways being a nurse is like being a defense lawyer. Every convicted person deserves an impartial defense. The guilty and the innocent. The rapist and the shoplifter. Likewise, every patient deserves impartial, competent care. The saints and the jerks alike. You can despise a patient and still provide quality nursing care.
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    Quote from BrandonLPN
    In some ways being a nurse is like being a defense lawyer. Every convicted person deserves an impartial defense. The guilty and the innocent. The rapist and the shoplifter. Likewise, every patient deserves impartial, competent care. The saints and the jerks alike. You can despise a patient and still provide quality nursing care.

    Well stated
    Last edit by JustBeachyNurse on Oct 18, '12 : Reason: formatting
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    Quote from dirtyhippiegirl
    I don't know. I feel like the moral of this story is that even patients who are raging tools die. Everyone has to die eventually. Even Hitler died. I'm certain that you could have lovingly cradled Hitler's head in your arms as he passed away. Doesn't make the patient any more or less of a unkind person.
    I think the moral of the story was that even the unkind deserve the best care you're able to give.
    Last edit by JustBeachyNurse on Oct 18, '12 : Reason: ToS choice of language
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    Wow I am just trying to get into the BSN program, I have been a tech for many years. This story is very inspiring. It is a wake up call that we are not just there to take care of people that need a pill or a meal. Most of our patients are really sick, and facing something most of us have not faced. Death! It is scary, and we are the closest people to the situation. We need to be understanding and comforting! Thank you for sharing.
  12. 0
    Your story is very inspiring and I hope that this could be read by many people who want to become nurses. Thank you for sharing this with us.
  13. 0
    IowaKaren youe story is very inspiring and makes me reevaluate how to behave towards the others


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