You know the drill, clock in, get nervous about what the day has in store, while grumpy faced nurses from the prior shift run around with call lights still flaring up. After the initial apprehension, listen to report on all the patients, get yourself somewhat organized and before long the day goes by like a freight train you can barely hang onto. It always seemed to me like this common routine with an ungodly load of patients, left little time for extended compassionate bedside conversation. Sometimes I would go into a patient’s room, do their assessment while reminding myself to look them in the eyes (If they weren’t legally blind), give the meds and then rush into the next room before I got too far behind.
Then, as my competence and confidence improved after months of adjusting to a med surg unit, I began closely observing well-seasoned nurses; taking notice of their flow and therapeutic connection with patients. Of course, they would get overwhelmed like anyone else but it was the calmness and tact of making all their patients feel like the main focus in that moment. After figuring out this was possible with no sorcery involved, I began suspending my freak out nature on the floor and took a few seconds for those who wanted a listening ear.
One of the coolest people I had the privilege of caring for needed just that, someone who could hear them. This was an ornery elderly woman with a bunch of spunk but not a lot of good health or family left. She would persistently make off-handed remarks, yell about how slow I was in addressing her pain and even accused me of infusing her with vegetable oil. I kept thinking, this woman is a complete nightmare, God help me. On the second day under my care, she wanted me to look at a few pictures from a locally published book she had written a short memoir in. What I pleasantly discovered was someone with a remarkable past filled with activity, philanthropy, and a beautiful smile. It took me five minutes to hear her talk briefly about all the things she enjoyed during her youth, even tearfully as I gazed through the photographs. For the rest of the shift, I could tell a difference in her mood. My patient’s demeanor became sweet, her complaints less frequent and upon discharge even wrote a note of how much she appreciated my care! That experience was very touching and one of many instances forcing me to maintain a practice of taking time outs.
Staying in the moment also came in handy when a patient’s condition changed for the worse or everything seemed like a big mystery with lab values all helter-skelter. I paused for a moment, told myself to think, assessed the circumstances and patient deeply. It was amazing how much I would figure out and bring up to the physician or supervisor. I can remember a mentor on the floor, Diane, saying to me once “We get paid darn good money to be here, no matter how busy it gets, there is always time to show these people that we actually give a shit, even if it means setting down our afternoon coffee for a bit or holding off on a laugh about a post on the cell phone. Do your job and go talk to them!”