From time to time I get to care for a patient that involves a lot of attention and I can’t help but feel empathetic toward them or develop a connection. Of course, this is a major part of nursing but the danger comes when we get too emotionally invested. I’m sure we’ve all heard romanticized stories of the nurse who falls in love with a fallen soldier during a time of war. I can’t remember the term for that but it exists! Though we usually don’t want to marry many of our patients after taking care of them, there is a thing as becoming too compassionate where we leap over that professional boundary.
In my practice, I tend to form a close enough bond with a patient so that they understand I care; in turn, trust develops. Working in psychiatry, a lot of talking and listening is involved. Sometimes I’d hear the most heartbreaking stories and just want to embrace them, other moments I’d find that we had so much in common I wanted to invite the person out for lunch after discharge; of course that never happened. It’s inevitable that at some point in our career we will encounter individuals and situations where keeping our distance emotionally or otherwise is a challenge. To maintain a sincere compassionate heart with these circumstances and still avoid an apathetic nature, does take strength and discipline.
I can remember a story one nurse told me about a very nice, educated and attractive young man who had prominence in the community. Unfortunately, he descended into depression and eventually started developing psychotic symptoms which got him hospitalized. While in the hospital, he seemed stable and never gave a clue anything was wrong until he started accusing staff members of being FBI agents in a disguise. Definitely sad and the fact he desperately wanted someone to believe him made it worse. The nurse caring for him over the next few days expressed her cousin went through a similar dilemma and felt she could really help. She argued with the doctor a couple times about his treatment, wanted him to have one of the bigger rooms on the unit and spent an unusual amount of time with this patient on the unit talking. It almost sounds too textbooky boundary crossing but it happens!
She ended up getting assigned to another patient and supportively spoken with. It’s not to say she did anything inappropriate but rather got too involved and emotionally attached to this individual’s needs. As nurses, we can show that we have concern but still maintain a healthy distance emotionally from the patients we care about.