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.
Itís 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. Itís 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 canít.
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, Iím not the one safely on the other side of the stethoscope. Instead, suddenly, Iím 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 Iím 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 doctorís 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 Iíve 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 theyíre 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 donít 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 nursesí empathy and patience gave me dignity as a patient and helped me get from one moment to the next.
Thatís why itís important.
I was sitting on the table at the doctorís office after my day 14 follicle scan. The treatment had not worked, and there was little chance Iíd achieve that much-wanted pregnancy this month. There was an additional worry now. Iíd 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 whoís 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 wasnít already happening. So he did the only thing he could: he listened and was kind to me.
It doesnít change my messed-up ovaries. It doesnít 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 itís not a fix. Iím still sad. Iím still not pregnant. But somehow, it makes the grief and anger a little easier to bear. That physicianís compassion was absolutely vital in that awful moment.
Thatís why itís important.
Or the OB/GYN I see for my infertility issues. Sheís worked me into her schedule on the fly and spent significant time explaining treatments, making sure I truly understand what the plan is. Sheís listened to me as well. Sheís called me after her office hours have ended, staying late so that she could make sure I got the information I needed.
Sheís also honest and upfront, and is now helping me make the transition to seeing a reproductive endocrinologist. Thatís something I donít take for granted. It would be easy to refer me on and let that be the end of it. Instead, sheís helping me finish getting the extensive testing such as the HSG done here in my community so that I donít 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 doesnít change my infertile status. It doesnít ďfixĒ me. But it makes my life a little less hectic, a little easier. The compassion and help allows me to have procedures done where Iím more comfortable and with a doctor I like and trust.
Thatís why itís important.
I still donít 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 Iím comfortable, as a nurse providing care, not a patient. Iíd happily give up every insight Iíve gained during this process to just be normal.
But since thatís 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. Itís something Iíve 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 itís important.Last edit by Joe V on Jan 6, '13
MedRN11 has '2' year(s) of experience. From 'Indiana'; Joined Feb '12; Posts: 3; Likes: 19.1Jan 5, '13 by Esme12, BSN, RN Senior Moderator((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.0Jan 5, '13 by pattylee1122I 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.