What Becoming A Patient Taught Me About Being A Nurse
As nurses, we all try to provide the best care we can to our patients. Despite that, sometimes nothing we do can change a difficult situation or give the patient the outcome they desperately want. It can be easy to feel powerless in the face of those times. A nurse gets an all-too-personal chance to explore how a difficult diagnosis looks from a patient standpoint and the real impact of compassion, empathy, and a listening ear in practice.
Anyone who works in nursing for any length of time has had this moment.
It's the moment where you have done everything, exhausted an extensive supply of interventions, and all the medically appropriate treatment has happened but the outcome is not the desired one. It's an awful moment because almost everyone who gets into the side of health care where you work with patients has a deep desire to alleviate suffering, heal, and give patients/families the news they want to hear.
Sometimes we can't.
All I can offer as a nurse in these cases so often is support, empathy, and an ear. Most of the time, it feels pitifully inadequate. I always wish I could do more.
For the first time, I'm not the one safely on the other side of the stethoscope. Instead, suddenly, I'm a patient managing a life-altering condition who happens to be a nurse. The day I was diagnosed with infertility related to an ovarian condition, I entered the whirl of appointments, tests, highs, lows, and the emotional terrain that comes with being a patient who desperately wants a certain outcome. And I'm starting to recognize just how much these gestures by health care professionals do, indeed, mean something.
When I first began going for testing, one of the nurses at my doctor's office showed a great concern for my privacy, since my tests would happen at the same facility I work at. She understood that testing for reproductive problems might be something I would especially want to keep private. She went well beyond what HIPAA would require her to do to ensure my privacy was respected. I appreciated that.
Other nurses have quickly returned phone calls, taken time out of their day to talk to me when I've had to stop by the office with questions, and relayed messages. They made sure I knew when I could call for test results to help alleviate the wondering and worry about when those would come back.
In every instance, nurses have stopped and listened even when I know they have to be very busy and listening to me likely meant putting off something else or leaving a little later that day. Several have let me know that they're hoping along with me that the treatments work out. That support touches my heart and sometimes gives me a little bit of hope on the dark days when I don't have any.
None of these things changed my basic condition. I still had to have embarrassing, upsetting, and sometimes uncomfortable tests. The test results were still not what I hoped for. But nurses' empathy and patience gave me dignity as a patient and helped me get from one moment to the next.
That's why it's important.
I was sitting on the table at the doctor's office after my day 14 follicle scan. The treatment had not worked, and there was little chance I'd achieve that much-wanted pregnancy this month. There was an additional worry now. I'd already failed to ovulate on a different drug, and this brought me one step closer to the more invasive and expensive treatments. The doctor seeing me that day, my regular OB/GYN who's seen me for years and I got to talking a bit about all this.
Instead of hurrying on to his next patient, my doctor patiently listened to me attempt to articulate my distress at my condition, repeating myself, slightly incoherent. He listened. Responded empathetically and appropriately. Took the time to sit there and let me get my words out. I knew, as he listened and responded and gave me the time I needed, that right now this was all he could offer me. There was nothing medically he could do that wasn't already happening. So he did the only thing he could: he listened and was kind to me.
It doesn't change my messed-up ovaries. It doesn't change my inability to ovulate. But it changes me from a patient, a malfunctioning body part, an infertile, to a human being with real pain and real feelings. Of course it's not a fix. I'm still sad. I'm still not pregnant. But somehow, it makes the grief and anger a little easier to bear. That physician's compassion was absolutely vital in that awful moment.
That's why it's important.
Or the OB/GYN I see for my infertility issues. She's worked me into her schedule on the fly and spent significant time explaining treatments, making sure I truly understand what the plan is. She's listened to me as well. She's called me after her office hours have ended, staying late so that she could make sure I got the information I needed.
She's also honest and upfront, and is now helping me make the transition to seeing a reproductive endocrinologist. That's something I don't take for granted. It would be easy to refer me on and let that be the end of it. Instead, she's helping me finish getting the extensive testing such as the HSG done here in my community so that I don't have to drive an hour each direction and can have the procedures done where my health insurance will cover some of the cost.
Again, it doesn't change my infertile status. It doesn't "fix" me. But it makes my life a little less hectic, a little easier. The compassion and help allows me to have procedures done where I'm more comfortable and with a doctor I like and trust.
That's why it's important.
I still don't want to be a patient. I want to be one of those women who got pregnant within the first couple of months without the stress, worry, or expense surrounding infertility. I want to have textbook normal ovaries. I want to be back where I'm comfortable, as a nurse providing care, not a patient. I'd happily give up every insight I've gained during this process to just be normal.
But since that's not going to happen, the small silver lining in all of this is the knowledge that those words, those gestures, the ones that feel so inadequate in the face of life-changing situations should not be underestimated. That those gestures are not without impact. It's something I've done my best to act on as a nurse prior to this. I understood it was important. I worked to make sure I was available to patients, that I offered empathy to the best of my ability. But it was theoretical, academic. No longer, though.
Now I understand, in a way I never did before, why it's important.Last edit by Joe V on Jan 6, '13
Joined: Feb '12; Posts: 3; Likes: 19
Specialty: 2 year(s) of experienceJan 4, '13hugs...I've walked the infertility road...its a difficult one that unless you've walked it you don't understand...much luck!Jan 5, '13Yes, I understand.
Wonderful of you to share your story, and why it is so important to offer empathy, compassion, and a good listening ear.
Blessings for the New Year!Jan 5, '13I love hearing that even the smallest things I have to offer as a nurse make an impact. Thank you for sharing your story and hoping you are pregnant soon!Jan 5, '13Thank you for sharing. This is why I try to listen to my patients. What may not seem important to me, may be the world to them. Just to heard, listened to and understood does seem to help the patients cope better.Jan 5, '13((HUGS))....I am so sorry for your journey. I pray it has the outcome that you wish...
Thank you for sharing your journey and letting everyone know that it is the compassion. The little things that really do mean so much to the frightened patient....whether they have medical knowledge or not. I sometime think that those of us with medical knowledge have it worse for we don't want to be "that patient" that everyone talks about ....when we really just want someone to care.Jan 5, '13I had both positive and negative experiences with the nurses at my RE's clinic. I am not a nurse yet; however, this infertility journey had drawn me to the medical field. Inspiring to hear how empathy and listening make all the difference. I hope this will be the year you will have good news.... Thank you for your inspiring article to go beyond professionalism and to extend compassion.Jan 5, '13Hugs. I have too been down that road. Month after month of not getting pregnant. I understand the grief you feel.Jan 9, '13Sending up a little prayer for you to get your own little miracle. The best things I've learned in the "real" world of nursing are all things that I have learned by being a patient or patient's family member. My experiences through labor/deliver/postpartum, a choleycystectomy, an ectopic pregnanany, my father's diagnosis of melanoma and then eventual metastasis to his brain have all given me some of the greatest experiences when it comes to understanding my patients.Jul 17, '13This is a fairly old thread but I thank you for sharing. I so hope and pray that a baby is in your near future! When my hunny and I started dating he told me he may not be able to have kids. I didnt care, I was 19. Now that we are married and I am 25, and we have gone 18 unsuccessful months with no baby, reality is setting in. We are in denial. Finishing school and focusing on baby later. It hurts. Prayers for your and yours