From the Other Side of the Bed Rails - When the Nurse Becomes the Patient

I had an interesting experience today. I walked into a hematology/oncology office ... but this time as the patient. It's strange how much different it feels when you, the nurse, suddenly become the patient. It looks much different through the patient’s eyes. Nurses Spirituality Article


I looked around at the people in the waiting room, wondering... what's wrong with that lady? Does she have cancer? Poor thing. Then I thought... Gee... Maybe she's wondering the same thing about me. I wanted to reassure her that I was not really sick... just something wrong with my blood. I don't have cancer... nothing that bad... But what do I have? I have been asking myself this for several weeks... since the day that I realized that something wasn't quite right. Then when my blood tests came back abnormal and my primary care physician referred me to a hematologist.... who just happens to be an oncologist... that just seemed very strange. Hey... I am the one who helps other people deal with this kind of information. But now it's me.

The nurse who took me back to the room was very nice. In fact, everyone was very nice. Very soft spoken and reassuring. Again, I wanted to tell them... I'm not sick... not really. Not like the other patients. But still, I wondered...  what will they find out is wrong with me? Oh... it's probably nothing. Nothing really bad... or at least I hope and pray. Prayer... been doing a whole lot of that lately. Oh I always pray.... but it's usually for other people.

Then came the questions. Oh I hope I remember to tell him everything. What was that he just said? Hmmm... I'm having trouble remembering the order in which things happened. I hope I don't sound like an idiot. I am a nurse and should know this stuff. Oh yeah... I remember reading about that when I was googling things trying to figure out what is wrong with me. Good thing I brought my notebook with my list of questions. Now why did he ask that? Does he think I have that? Oh my. He wants to order what test? Why? When will I get the results...

Then I was ushered to the lab. Again... the lab tech was very nice and reassuring. But when I saw all of the vials that she was going to fill with my blood... I did get a little queasy. The tourniquet felt tight... I turned my head. Ouch..... it did pinch a bit. How long is this going to take? Sure... I'm fine. I would sure be embarrassed if I fainted. I have to go where to get what other test? Why? Where exactly do I go? When? OK. Come back in 3 weeks? Seems like a long time to wait. OK. Sure that date is fine. Wonder what I'll find out then?

This is not the first time I have been on the receiving end of medical care... on the other side of the bed rails, so to speak. Each time, I learn something new... something I can use to make me a better nurse... treating others as I would wish to be treated. Today, I realized how much a reassuring and caring voice means to a patient who may be afraid of what they might hear or what they might experience. It might seem like a small thing when we as nurses take a few more minutes to offer compassionate caring... to meet the emotional needs of the patient... but to the patient, it helps alleviate some of the worries and fears, thereby lowering the stress level. While we can't always offer a solution or reason why things are happening, we can always take the time to show genuine compassion.

To read more articles, go to my AN blog: Body, Mind, and Soul, Be the Nurse You Would Want as a Patient, From the Other Side of the Bed Rails - When the Nurse Becomes the Patient

Also concerned. Very proud of you also for writing this post and reminding how important it is to show caring.

Taking your own experiences and using them to improve the lot of others is a hallmark of a great nurse.

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

Hello dcglidewell. Thanks for your concern and kind comments.

All experiences......good and bad.... hold lessons to be learned. Unpleasant ones seem to be fertile soil that, when worked correctly, can produce the beautiful flowers of humbleness, compassion, empathy, hope, and love.

Specializes in Medical, ortho/neuro, jail, occupational.

I also spent some time early in my life on the other side when I was diagnosed with Hepatitis that did not respond as I had hoped. 30years later all is well and liver is relatively good but I remember 9 months of not getting better and wondering if I would. My prayers and healing thoughts are with you. Please continue to share you outcomes.

This week I, too, became a receiver of care from the "other side of the bedrails." I had fallen at the bowling alley, hitting my left hip hard. Initially, I thought it was only bruised; walked, 1 foot at a time, up the three steps to the main floor; requested an ice pack; told them I would not be completing the game. Within just a few minutes the pain in my upper hip hit, at about 8/10, and I could not change position or put weight on my left leg. I agreed to have them transport me to the hospital for evaluation. I did not think I had a fractured hip, but then I've never had one and don't know how one feels.

The EMS folks were great, assisting me to the gurney and talking to me throughout the trip. My only complaint is being called "dear;" I am 63 and have earned the right to be called by my name at all times, unless I give permission otherwise.

The ER staff were competent in their tasks, but lacking, most of them, in patient/staff communication skills. First, they called this stranger "sweetheart" or "dear" constantly. No coaching in breathing techniques for pain control during turns. Gave me a bedpan when requested; then left me on it for 30 minutes, right through the doctor's visit and into the arrival of the X-ray tech, who had to go find someone to help clean me up so that I could go to X-ray.

The worst part? No call button attached to the side of the gurney, until the X-ray tech did it upon return from X-ray.

I remember, all those years ago, the lectures from my instructors on not using endearments with patients; on checking every few minutes when a patient is on the bedpan; on ensuring the call button is within reach. What happened to those "little" things that make a patient feel he/she is still in control of himself/herself?

take care of ur self . and we will pray to you too ..but u know maybe its really great experience to try the other side of being the patient.. we shouldn't look into our problems just in one side i mean the negative side of being the patient maybe we should learn how to look into our problems from the positive side and thats what r u doing and really thnx for learning us how to look into ur problems from the positive side ....and sorry for my awfull language :S

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

I have been on the other side of the bed rails for several years now. My downfall began in 1997, right after I got my nursing license. I was actively looking for work when I had an anaphylactoid reaction to niacin. I was told I wouldn't be able to work as a nurse by the top judge for the SSA in our state.

I had a few surgeries to correct certain things wrong with my worn and very used body. Then in 2001, the ball began rolling downhill again. I had a PE that nearly killed me. It was caused by a steroid that also gave me steroid induced myopathy. The following year was a faster downhill slide. I was hospitalized in serious to critical condition four different times, and many too many times since then. I am very tired of being on this end of the bedrail. I would much rather be on the outside caring for others. But I know I must accept the cards my life has dealt me, and I do so with the thought that someone else has it worse. At least I do have good healthcare.

I do my best to stay cheerful, and joke around when I'm feeling up to par. I want to see my grandchildren grow.

Specializes in Medical.

Having been ill myself in the past I understand how it feels when the tables are turned. Wishing you God's speed. Keep us updated.

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

I truly wish I was on your end right now. This end is not fun at all. I felt fulfilled when I was serving and helping others. I used to take so much for granted; The ability to go outside in any kind of weather, I'm not able to toldrate heat or humidity, the ability to walk around freely, I'm now in a wheelchair, and the air I now breathe is via oxygen 24/7. Oh if I had only been more thankful for what I had. I don't even have a car anymore. That was removed when I went into hospice care.

Many interesting comments here. I am checking back for news. Please keep us posted.

Specializes in Med/surg, ER/ED,rehab ,nursing home.

I have been on the other side of the bed rails for over a year now. Not all of it good. I am doing a lot better but may never get back to bed side nursing. I learned that the most comfort I could have was my call light. Even if no one responded. I spent nearly a month in ICU, over a month in rehab. To get off the vent, to get stronger. Reviewing my chart has me wondering why so many errors or neglect in my care. I feel that I have been to hell on earth and I am glad that I made myself a DNR. I doubt I would have the strength to continue another prolonged battle. Right now I am fighting MRSA that has become osteomylitis. But I am making time for myself and my husband. We have camped several times in our popup. I have attacks of intractable pain, but these are only every other day not all the time.


Your emotions and sense of self are going through so much right now. I pray that you will grow even stronger and resilient no matter what the outcome. Your story reminded me of an experience I had 2 years ago. I experienced a slight but unpleasant pain on one side of my head for 2 months. I thought it was sinusitis and made an appointment to see an ENT specialist. After being seen by a resident, the consultant came in. She was excellent, brusque but knew her stuff. She discovered with an electronic probe and camera, a growth inside my sinus. I was immediately asked to sign a biopsy form, and in the next 10 mins. a biopsy was taken. All of this in less than one hour. I sat there, feeling out of touch with reality, with a bloody nose and a sense of the unreal. "Come back in 4 weeks" were my instructions and I walked out of the clinic more than dazed and went back to work. At work, I dissolved into tears but quickly got back in to the affairs of the day as it was ( as usual) crazy and super busy. I mentally went into a place where I rarely go, imagining what I would do if diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer, knowing its poor prognosis, I decided I could not spend my time focussing on this and decided to get on with living and surviving for myself and most of all my family. I did not discuss what happened - How do you do it anyway!

A month later I went back. saw my specialist who simply said, "you don't have cancer" and I left feeling weightless. This is a tough and difficult time and everyone copes differently. In your position, when you are sent everywhere, have unexplained tests, with people asking if you have cancer - the only way to cope is to see these questions as part of a need to help even if it sounds tactless, unprofessional and intrusive. One can always imagine all sorts of replies without losing your cool.

Mental irony and sarcasm are a useful form of wit and great coping mechanism when feeling at a loss for words- this way you don't have to actually answer, other than politely.

You cope the best way you know as long as you are comfortable in doing so but most of all, think positively, surround yourself with people and surroundings which bring peace, comfort and beauty and in the long run, will feed your energies, soul and body. My thoughts are with you

Specializes in N/A.

Hi everyone. I'm not a nurse yet, not even a nursing student, but I was asked via my first post to come here and share my experience.

Other than being sick as dog the entire time, my pregnancy seemed to be going perfectly. The baby was very active and my blood tests came back flawless. In order to find out the sex of the baby, I was sent to a diagnostic center. My husband won the bet and "it" became a she. I didn't find out until a few days later from my OB that there was something to be concerned about. My placenta had become a bit swollen. At the time, I was living in Key West, so I was sent to Miami to see a specialist. There, I was told there really wasn't much I could do. Neither me nor the baby showed any signs of anything serious related to a "thickened" placenta. The baby's size was not adversely effected and she was still incredily active.

My husband is in the Coast Guard and was due to go to school in Virginia from April until a couple weeks after my due date in July. Both of us were born and raised in Maryland, so we decided to pack up and move our dogs and I home while he attended school. We arrived there on March 22nd. On March 28th I began feeling excruciating pains. I chalked it up to gas, but gas doesn't typically radiate from your pelvis to your back every few minutes, not the mention the pain was far too intense. By 5 AM, my daughter Emelia Summer arrived via C-section at 1 lb 9 oz. She was born at 26 1/2 weeks gestation and spent 80 long days in NICU.

My experience in the NICU was actually a very good one. I had heard about NICU nurses being somewhat distant or wooden, but that was not the case for me. The nurses I had were wonderfully supportive and compassionate. They were always realistic about her situation, but I never felt hopeless. Still, none of them had ever gone through what I was. Emelia went through the ringer: chronic lung disease, intubation, blood transfusions, 3 rounds of indomethacin to close a PDA, bradys and desats consistently, and reflux that lead to feeding issues. Eventually she made it through and went home in June at just under 4 lbs on an apnea monitor. She's done amazing since coming home, doubling her weight and should be coming off the monitor next week!

I had always considered a career in nursing passively. I thought: "If I could handle it, I'd make a great nurse". Now I think: "Why can't I handle it?" I worked in a childcare environment for three years, which has made me pretty immune to the gross out factor. Prior to getting married, I was pursing a degree in Early Childhood education. After running a charter business in Key West, I discovered I liked working with adults as well. I'm still in the consideration phase, but if I do go to nursing school I'd love to work in a NICU or PICU eventually. I feel like my life experience would make me an awesome nurse in this field. I'd be better able to relate to the parents and I'd have an increased sensitivity toward the babies/children.

Thanks for reading!