Doesn't everyone have that 'one patient'?

An article recapping the last moments of a client and those who lived him through it. Nurses Announcements Archive Article


Doesn't everyone have that 'one patient'?

It was shortly after labor day when I walked into the emergency room to see a client who had been found unresponsive and rushed to the hospital. I walked to the front desk, identified myself, and requested to see him. The woman behind the desk smiled kindly at me and asked: "Are you family?" I opened my mouth to respond and closed it again

I did not know how to answer. This client, who had I known for 5 years, had no family. When a coworker visited him in the hospital weeks before, she had been present when a staff member asked him about family members. He had been very clear on the fact there was none.

Was I family? When my normally calm administrator called me, her voice broke when she asked me to go to the ER to check on him, as she had just gotten a call from a very upset and worried aide. She had known him for much longer than I had, had gone to see him recently in the hospital, and was genuinely upset. It was her that had visited him a few weeks ago in the same hospital. Clearly, she was his family.

Was I family? His aide was upset because she cared for him and had been with him more often than her own child. He has suddenly declined, and he needed her. She had come at all hours of the day and night, paid and unpaid, to care for him. She was scared. Of course she was family.

Was I family? I had spent my drive there thinking of him. But I had also thought just as much about the girls in my office, all who had gotten out of their beds to care for him late at night, supported him when he was sad and angry, and loved him through it all. Girls who answered the phone at 1 am when he needed something, who talked to him during the day when he called for reasons that weren't really reasons. Of course, they were family.

Was I family? She asked again.

Yes, I replied. I am part of his family. And after the kind liaison sat me down and handed me tissues, I sat with him til it was time for me to go tell our family he was gone. When I arrived back at my office, I hugged, cried with and held our family, as we mourned one of our own.

I don't say this enough, but I thank God for our family

I wonder sometimes if other nurses or medical professionals go through this.

I know we are taught not to form intense attachments to patients as it could cloud our judgment. I feel like my attachment to some has actually helped. Knowing them as well as I do has let me pick up on little things I may not have otherwise. These bonds have allowed my staff to care for patients in a way they normally wouldn't be able to. For patients like this one, who had no one but us, how does one walk into his home on a regular basis and not feed the basic human need for human connection? Isn't it part of our job to care for the client both physically and emotionally? Mental health and physical health can and often do go hand in hand. No one should be alone in the world. Especially not when so many people go in and out of their home every single day.

Honestly, I feel like many nurses and medical professionals do. Doesn't everyone have that "one patient"?

Home health nursing supervisor, training a monitoring awesome PCA/CNAs to keep clients at home

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Chronic Care Coordinator

spotangel, DNP, RN, NP

24 Articles; 518 Posts

Specializes in ED, Tele, MedSurg, ADN, Outpatient, LTC, Peds.

Yes! More than "one" patient!

A "family" offers you the support you need to thrive.

That makes a nurse family.

I am sure your patient appreciated that his family was with him when he passed and that he had family that grieved for him.

This is why I love nursing! You cannot put a dollar amount when you operate from your heart--yet you are immensely richer!

Like my hero Jesus said, "Love one another as I love you!"

Specializes in ICU; Telephone Triage Nurse.

Oh, absolutely! How can you not become fond of, or even love some patients? Even if you try hard to make armour around your heart some patients slip through the cracks. I can't recall the actual number of patient funerals I've been to in the past 2 decades.

It's amazing how relationships form - you don't have to ever even meet someone face to face. I now work in telephone triage and we have what we call frequent fliers - patients that call so often you recognize their voice in a cold handoff transfer, and you already know their date of birth to pull up their EMR.

One such patient was a tiny elderly woman (we have a picture in the EMR) who was slightly forgetful due to moderate dementia, and she called several times a night to verify: "If I took my Tylenol at this time then I can take it again at this time ... Then at this time".

She was the sweetest little gal ever! Over a couple years I became extremely fond of her - she called all of us "Mija" - understood in Spanish as 'darling' or 'honey,' which is how it is normally translated into English. 'Mija' is a term of endearment for a little girl (or for a mature woman who needs a little 'babying').

This patient's son lived out of state and she rarely heard from him, so she was all alone. Because she was so isolated we were it for her, and if it was quiet I'd talk with her for 30 minutes (an eternity in telephone triage when every call needs to be short and concise) about nothing particular.

Eventually she wasn't doing well and ended up in the hospital more frequently - a couple of call reps from our organization went to bring her flowers to meet her (usually only the clinic staff meet patients). Over several months she had falls over her O2 tubing fracturing a hip, pneumonia, and other insidious illnesses - all the Boogie Men of the elderly. Not long later she died - I actually cried when I found out, and grieved for her passing. Lydia was a staple in triage for years, always cheerful, sweet and kind, albeit a bit absent minded.

I still miss her. And whatever the relationship with her son was, we on the evening shift in telephone triage loved her.


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I'm an oncology nurse. Yes, I know we are taught throughout our schooling and into professional practice to not form bonds with our patients. I think that is a joke! As an onc nurse, if I didn't have those close bonds the patient or their family may not be willing to share some intimate detail that is important to know during their treatment. I honestly think it is a disservice to nursing students to educate them on keeping their distance emotionally when taking care of patients. We all know that nurse who doesn't connect with their patients and feel sorry for them. Nurses need to be allowed to express emotion, caring and empathy with our patients- other wise the patient is the one who suffers. Who wants to be taken care of by some RN who is emotionless and uncaring? No one wants that.


146 Posts

Specializes in Orthopedics, Med-Surg.

Not to be argumentative or even off topic, but the only people who have clients in the hospital are malpractice attorneys. Nurses have patients.

Specializes in LTC, CPR instructor, First aid instructor..

Absolutely, nurses and aide's definitely fit into the "family" realm, especially for those who have no relatives. God Bless you for writing this article. So many people need us all.

My friend who works on the hospital switchboard at night often has "regulars" who ring sometime lots over a few nights and then some months or weeks later. Often putting them on hold while taking other calls and coming back to them.

She often says it is the most important calls she takes for the night.

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