Well, since I've been spouting off on another thread of this forum (I'm so ashamed...) and people have been taking shots at me for being harsh I will let down my guard and expose one of the blunders of my career just so you all know that I do make mistakes.
I make no bones about having a attitude that often needs major adjustment. I'm a lot better than I was when I was younger--wisdom and experience tend to do that to you, I guess. Anyway, my problem was with people who attempted suicide. Had no sympathy for them. Used to think what dummies they were for failing their attempts. That the world would be better off without their whining and crying that they failed to leave this world.
You ask about being non-judgmental. I like to call it my professional face. It's that ability to look like you care and are concerned although you are seething inside with disdain or dislike for the person you are dealing with. I look at it as if I'm playing a part in a play. That is how I deal with people that I just want to walk away from or just not deal with when I have my nurses hat on.
Enter 19 year old girl who just took a bottle of her mother's Valium and a handful of Tylenol #3s. Just admitted, to me, from ER for overnight observation in the ICU where I had been floated for the night. She was the second thing to tick me off that night. Being floated to ICU was the first. Thought she was a little twit. She did this because her boyfriend broke up with her. Wasn't even smart enough to take enough of the right stuff to do the job right. Now, those were my thoughts. Outwardly, I hovered over her all my shift, held her hand, reassured her things would look better and that in the future she would feel much differently about this whole boyfriend thing. I was so happy to get the H, E, double hockey sticks out of there at the end of my shift. Never saw the kid again, until. . .
Fast forward to about 3 years later. I'm shopping at a local store and some clerk with gobs of makeup on her eyes comes sashaying up to me all gooey and excited repeating "I thought I recognized you. I'm so glad I have a chance to see you again. I've never forgotten you." She proceeds to tell me who she is. I got it quickly. It was the young girl who had attempted suicide and given me a miserable night at work. She wanted to thank me. She said it over and over. You were so right, she said. Things are so different now. I'm so glad I didn't die.
I went home and cried for hours. What a crappy way to learn a lesson. I learned it well that day. The lesson is that you never know how what you say or do for someone is going to affect their life. God, or my spirits guides, must have known that I needed a kick in the butt on this issue and it was a kick well planted. We never know the whole story behind the patient and it is very hoity-toity of us to think we do. And, that is how I've learned to look at patients now. I try to find at least one good or positive thing about them to help me deal with the havoc they have caused. As nurses ministering to them in acutely ill episodes of their lives we are really very privileged to be able to see them at their very worse. The truth is that many of them are very good people at their very best. I started my hospital career working on a unit that had 4 detox beds. What patients those were! And we had frequent flyers too. Nothing is worse than working with someone having DTs. What I did experience that perhaps you have not is that when they are sobered up they are very remorseful, often don't remember what they were like when DTing, or they just don't want to deal with it. Many alcoholics actually try to commit suicide while drunk which often accounts for them being admitted after having accidents where they hit trees or other stationary objects or drove off the road and crashed. When impaired, these people really aren't thinking straight. We had to attend a bunch AA meetings as part of our training to work in detox and some of these people are absolutely amazing, sensitive, kind human beings. If you can see beyond what the drugs and alcohol do to people you can find some humanity there they may help you get through nursing them. Perhaps you'll have a former patient come up to you to thank you for saving them. You never know that the seed you plant might sprout and grow, or that the life you are saving might go on to do something incredible for the rest of the world. But, in the meantime, put on your professional face, look interested and caring, go through the motions of doing the right things a nurse is supposed to do, and then unload it all when you get home or at your next family gathering. Relatives love to hear our war stories and we can include all the attitude we want to infuse into them. We're not perfect, we just have to appear to be. We all come into our jobs with prejudices and rather than deny them, we have to at least cover them up.