A Phone Call
You never know how much value can be placed on the ‘little things’ in nursing. Things like a phone call or a hug. Sometimes I get so caught up in the stress and the environment that I forget to remember the value of the little things. If you have little moments of nursing that made you happy, please share at the end of the article!She called my name down the hallway. To me, at the other nurses’ station. Why she did that, I don’t know. I had a phone next to me. She’s the unit secretary. Why doesn’t she know my extension?
“You have a phone call. Johnson’s brother. Wants to speak to his nurse”
I call back (now we are just raising our voices at each other, how foolish) “Transfer the call over here.”
She calls back at me. “What’s the number at your phone?”
Again I wonder- why don’t you know the number? But I don’t ask her aloud. I reply “6015” The phone next to my computer rings and I answer.
“Third floor, this is SarahLee, how can I help you?”
I hear a voice, sounding far away and yet right in my ear. “This is George, Elizabeth Johnson’s brother. I was wondering if you could tell me how she is doing?”
I ask “Are you her health care proxy or power of attorney?”
“No, just her brother,” the voice seems frail.
My HIPAA training kicks in. I search my brain and scan through the computer in front of me to see if this person is a contact. I don’t see his name in the computer and the chart is at the other nurses’ station. Then inspiration strikes me.
“I’m sorry, can you hold on for just a moment?” I ask. I press hold on the phone and walk down the hallway.
Knocking, I enter. “Elizabeth, your brother George is on the phone, wondering how you are doing. Can I give him some information?”
Elizabeth looks up and smiles. “Oh yes! I have been trying to call him! Please tell him anything that he wants!”
I go back to the station and the phone, press hold again and just get a dial tone. I lost him. I must have hung up on him, poor man. Another victim of my sad phone skills. Sighing, I go back down the hallway.
“Elizabeth, do you have his phone number? I’m sorry but I think I lost him.”
She searches her brain as she is lying there on her bed: “Oh yes, it’s 478, no 784, no…oh dear, I’m always forgetting it…”
Suddenly, the overhead page is heard, “SarahLee, phone call front desk. SarahLee, phone call front desk.”
Thankful, I say “Never mind Elizabeth, that’s probably him”
I go straight to the unit secretary this time. No more fancy phone maneuvers for me. She tells me how to use her phone, I sit down and I answer it. Quick apology for hanging up on him “I never could run these phones.”
“It’s ok,” he laughs nervously. Then, without skipping a beat, like he was diving into a pool before he lost his nerve, he asks: “Sarah, is my sister going to die?”
Stunned at the suddenness of such a request, I search through my brain about the woman I just left in the room. Respirations even, non labored, alert, talking, laughing, getting up as needed on her own, very limited pain. Speaking cautiously, I reply “No…I wouldn’t say that she is going to die. I mean, of course, I can’t see the future. She’s going to need some time to recover, certainly, but no, right now she’s not dying.”
Suddenly there was a silence on the other end. No talking, just deep breathing heard, in and out, in and out. I thought I had hung up on him again. Finally I say “Um..sir..are.. are you still there?”
Deep breathing and then, a tearful voice, full of anguish, speaking in a rush now, “I got home and had a message from our other sister, they said she was doing terrible, not well at all, that she was dying…I tried to call her room several times and I couldn’t get through…so I finally thought I should try the nurse…so I’ve been trying to get through at the desk….” Then I heard the sound of him blowing his nose.
And there it was. That moment that comes every now and again, where I am going along doing a normal day’s work and then suddenly I feel like an observer of my own life. Like I am someone who is looking through a glass at all these different people walking around and suddenly I see two people who have never met before meet at an intersection.
Without warning, his day’s crisis had smacked headlong into my day’s routine. What was he thinking when I put him on hold to ask my patient’s permission to talk to him and then subsequently hung up on him?
He had thought his sister was dying.
Did he think I had to find someone else to break the news to him? Did he think that he would never hear his sister’s voice again? Did he think that the nurse didn’t want to talk to him?
When I picked up the phone, I thought that he was going to ask some general questions like “How is she doing, when can she go home, can I come and see her?”
But his question was more serious.
His question was his biggest fear. He didn’t even know if she was dead, dying or alive.
Our phone conversation continued and we talked a little more about her health. His tears and fears subsided. I could tell that relief was spreading right through him. I could almost see his smile over that phone line, if such a thing is even possible to say. At the end of our conversation (with the help of the unit secretary) I transferred his call to her room where he and his sister had a good conversation.
She called me into the room later and gave me a big hug. “Thank you so much,” she said. “He was so afraid” and we laughed together, as two people who knew a private joke.
But the rest of that shift, I felt what must be one of the best feelings in the world. I felt like smiling, laughing, running down the halls like a fool.
Because my patient wasn’t dying. She was very much alive.
I had put one person’s mind at ease. And I got a hug and a thank you from another.
What more could I ask for? So don’t ever underestimate the value of the little moments in nursing, like a phone call. Small routine moments in our patient care may turn out to be one of the biggest moments in our patients’ and their families’ lives.
And we get to be part of it. How amazing!
What little moments have you been a part of?Last edit by brian on Jan 29, '13 : Reason: added image
From 'Anytown, USA'; 25 Years Old; Joined Jun '09; Posts: 78; Likes: 434. You can follow SarahLeeRN on My Website4Jan 15, '13 by proud nurse, BSN, RNI like this. Reminds me of all my years in LTC. Phone calls are so reassuring to family members who aren't there. We are their eyes and ears, and they put their trust in us.
A lovely story to start my day!2Jan 15, '13 by Naturally BrilliantBut you still technically broke HIPAA, right? Or is verbal consent from an obviously Altered Mental Status (AMS) patient okay to give out patient health status info on the phone? Thank God you weren't taking care of Kate Middleton!
I'm just messin' with ya. That's a very deep story. Quite touching!