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It's Just a Shower

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I was told to look for the most “far gone” patient and work with them. Instead, I broke the chain of strict student learning and approached this peculiar patient in the day room. One by one, he put his cards down...

Specializes in Adolescent & Adult Psychiatry.

It's Just a Shower

The purity of water can bring wonders to a parched soul, a dirty wound, a needy plant. I happen to know of a way in which water can bring solace to the heaviest of hearts and even the most entangled minds. I met him during my Psychiatry clinical and he happened to be a regular on the unit. I didn't see much in him at first and actually thought he was a family relative of a patient. I was told to look for the most "far gone" patient and work with them. Instead, I broke the chain of strict student learning and approached this peculiar patient in the day room. One by one, he put his cards down as he lazily played solitaire. He was lanky and gaunt, but his face reeked of an ageless aura. He reminded me of the ruins of Fabio, though his lack for anything of the norm proved otherwise. I sat near the end of the table and asked if I could join in. Apparently, he took it as I was asking him if he was Hitler. He looked at me with such fervor that my innocent student nurse persona was suddenly cracked. Just like the Russian nested dolls, his entire being unleashed itself onto me and my now ill-fated question. Human interaction. Hmmm. Not something on his list of things to do. So I backed away and pretended that I just didn't get served by said patient.

It took several more visits before he could gather the strength (and kindness) to say 'hello' to me. I was pleased to see such progress and returned the greeting daily. Eventually, we held short conversations consisting of the weather, why can't he go home, what's for dinner, etc. I was mostly there to listen and offer a resounding nod when the time felt right. One day, I got to the unit extra early so that I could work on my presentation. I was surprised to see that he hadn't left yet, but at the same time relieved because he was not mentally ready to go back home. Not today. As I worked on the computer, I noticed him coming towards the desk and when I asked what he needed he blurted out "I scrubbed myself harder than ever today. The shower washed away my sins, my unhappiness, my anger. I'm cured. Send me home". Immediately, I tried to think of what to say, but no words could form. No nursing book could confidently prepare me for this occasion. So I decided to get more information from him.

Boy, did I get some information...

He mainly spoke of his countless sins and how his showers either make or break his day. If he's not satisfied with the purification, he's depressed for the day; if he's satisfied, he's rejuvenated. Simple as that. There was an urge within me the entire time to refrain from saying something idiotic, but it happened anyway. I simply said, "well, it's just a shower".

Begin Note: Sometimes, Silence is more golden than that doctor's Rolex. EndNote.

This is exactly what his parents told him, his ex-girlfriend, his own self, but he couldn't help it. Life seemed to flow out of his body that day as he was yet again reminded of how he turned something trivial into a life-sustaining ritual. I tried my best to apologize, but it was useless since the words just hit his ears but never went in. I walked home with my head down and my pride scraping against the pavement. What a dumb idea to make someone feel silly when all they needed was reassurance. So much for being a great nursing student. I prayed for him that night. I hoped beyond all hope that he didn't try to harm himself because of me. Ha! Me, have influence over someone's willpower? Silly girl! That's for the birds!

My last day on the unit brought renewed hope for me to settle any misunderstandings and prove my support for him. He approached the counter again, but this time had the slightest hint of a smile on his face. He thanked me for listening to his stories and told me he found the courage to get up that morning. He didn't scrub as usual, but instead, let the waterfall where it may; devoid of any attempt to extinguish the imaginary sins he had wrought upon himself. I was pleased to hear of such good news and praised him for his efforts. He looked at me, struggled to smile, and simply said, "well, it's just a miracle". He shuffled away and nothing more was needed to be said.

I still think about that patient and wonder if he's okay. I'm sure he's still struggling with his OCD and other issues. Sometimes, when I perform my daily routine, I get caught up in thinking about if the water in my shower has other-worldly powers and can rinse some of these burdens off of me. Then I think, does this count towards a free trip to the psych unit? That's when I hush my thoughts and continue on with my day.

Now that I'm a nurse, I tend to wonder about my effects on my patients. Do I have the ability to wash away their pain and sorrow? Do I have what it takes to make them feel the same way that a shower felt for my psych patient? Perhaps I don't possess such angelic powers as of yet, but I do know that there are plenty of symbolic ways to relieve stress. Maybe my psych patient wasn't so "crazy" after all.

As I continue on my path of nursing, I want to know that there's an outlet for me to let go of my wandering mind and doubtful ways. It's not easy trying to find peace and purity when you don't know where the exit is. I suppose that for now, I'll just continue to enter my bathtub and be transported to another realm where a clear mind, peace, and tranquility exist. Or I could just lather, rinse, repeat. Besides, it's just a shower. :p

NurseThis21, BSN, RN :nurse:

Nurse Clinician; Specialty: Adolescent & Adult Psychiatry

2 Articles   121 Posts

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12 Comment(s)

This is why I love psych, and why after working in a psych hospital for five years (ward clerk, admin specialist) I knew that I wanted to spend more time listening and interacting with the patients. So I took the CNA course and am waiting to get my test date so I can be a therapy tech. If I knew how much I would enjoy this field, I would have become a psych nurse twenty something years ago when I was pursuing a useless degree I'm still paying off.

I think the writer really captures how dealing with the severely mentally ill can give you some very valuable perspective on life sometimes. Thank you!

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 20 years experience.

Excellent work..........thank you!

kittykittykitty

Has 42 years experience.

If it were "just a shower" why is there baptism? What about all the miracles connected with water?

Edited by kittykittykitty

Great story! I have a lot of empathy for the way your patient felt about his shower, I feel water has such a powerful way of changing one's mood. I think about the ocean and how the sound, the smell, the waves just relax me and make me feel alive. I think about how the first 9 months of our lives are basically inside a warm water bubble and how much I loved my long calgon baths when I was 8 years old.Water is a powerful thing.

If you like Psych, I think you would really enjoy some of Dr. Irvin D. Yalom's books.

Thanks for sharing this! It reminds me of an experience I had while I was an administrator at a LTC facility - it was an old facility our company had purchased out of financial bankruptcy. The prior company hadn't invested nearly a dime in upkeep - it was terrible. I decided it would be interesting to try and see things - to the extent possible - thru the eyes of the elderly residents. So I admitted myself. You know - eat the food, check out the activities, mingle w/ the residents, get on their schedule, sleep with a roommate (I cleared it with them & their family first), and TAKE A SHOWER. IN the shower room. Waiting in line with the other residents in the hall. Sitting on a shower chair. With just a sheet draped over my cold naked bod.

I started seeing things differently at that point. I understood why some of our elderly residents would get so agitated when it was "time" to take a shower. I felt so humiliated sitting on that chair, naked beneath a sheet, with everyone walking around and looking at me. My nurses got a kick out of it - but I was humiliated. And then I got wheeled into the shower room - it was gross! I almost vomited. There was little to no privacy. I hated myself for "allowing" my nurses to work in that environment, and for "allowing" my residents to live in that environment.

Next day, after I was discharged, I hired a crew to completely gut that shower room and renovate it. The next month, I sat down with an architect and my nursing director, and we worked out a way to configure the existing bathrooms in resident rooms (this was on a vacant hall) for showers - and how much it would cost. Small fortune, but we did it. We converted the shower room on that hall into a massage therapy and spa room.

Residents loved it (so did their families). Our nurses really loved it too - showers went way faster, way more dignity, and showers became ... enjoyable ... again.

Everyone told me it would hurt my bottom line ("oh, you just can't go spending money like that on something like showers ...") B.S. In addition to it being the right thing to do, for both staff and residents, we found that it improved our bottom line BIG time. It was my DNS that challenged me to admit myself - I think she knew what the outcome would be. She changed me forever - and the entire facility.

Water ... done right ... can change everything. Thanks again for the post.

gonzo1, ASN, RN

Specializes in ED, ICU, PSYCH, PP, CEN. Has 18 years experience.

I have always found water to be very therapeutic. Showers, rivers, lakes, the ocean. Love being near and hearing the water flow.

BTW: I am aquarius

You are an inspiration. Starting CNA classes tomorrow...you made me remember why I am going into this field.

janz

Specializes in ICU, Infection Control.

A "simple" thing seen with different perspective can be of great value. Therefore showing much respect is the word to keep us from hurting others...

Thanks for sharing this! It reminds me of an experience I had while I was an administrator at a LTC facility - it was an old facility our company had purchased out of financial bankruptcy. The prior company hadn't invested nearly a dime in upkeep - it was terrible. I decided it would be interesting to try and see things - to the extent possible - thru the eyes of the elderly residents. So I admitted myself. You know - eat the food, check out the activities, mingle w/ the residents, get on their schedule, sleep with a roommate (I cleared it with them & their family first), and TAKE A SHOWER. IN the shower room. Waiting in line with the other residents in the hall. Sitting on a shower chair. With just a sheet draped over my cold naked bod.

I started seeing things differently at that point. I understood why some of our elderly residents would get so agitated when it was "time" to take a shower. I felt so humiliated sitting on that chair, naked beneath a sheet, with everyone walking around and looking at me. My nurses got a kick out of it - but I was humiliated. And then I got wheeled into the shower room - it was gross! I almost vomited. There was little to no privacy. I hated myself for "allowing" my nurses to work in that environment, and for "allowing" my residents to live in that environment.

Next day, after I was discharged, I hired a crew to completely gut that shower room and renovate it. The next month, I sat down with an architect and my nursing director, and we worked out a way to configure the existing bathrooms in resident rooms (this was on a vacant hall) for showers - and how much it would cost. Small fortune, but we did it. We converted the shower room on that hall into a massage therapy and spa room.

Residents loved it (so did their families). Our nurses really loved it too - showers went way faster, way more dignity, and showers became ... enjoyable ... again.

Everyone told me it would hurt my bottom line ("oh, you just can't go spending money like that on something like showers ...") B.S. In addition to it being the right thing to do, for both staff and residents, we found that it improved our bottom line BIG time. It was my DNS that challenged me to admit myself - I think she knew what the outcome would be. She changed me forever - and the entire facility.

Water ... done right ... can change everything. Thanks again for the post.

YOU KNOw this is a wonderful story--thanks for taking the time to help the old ones--they need us the most--your kindness will be remembered in heaven.

Simply amazing. Sometimes its the whole picture we look at, and the details shock us. These are the best stories I have read about the side of nursing no one can teach or prepare us for.

*clicks the LIKE button* :)