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"?