Moments That Give Pause

This post was challenging to write and I’ve hesitated.

Hesitated because I don’t believe this is how the majority think or how they work or interact. In-fact, I believe it’s a small minority who, whether burned out or over worked; they’ve lost a connection to the work and people they’ve pledged to help.

I write this purely from my perspective as a patient.

I’m fortunate and I’ve been fortunate. I’ve benefited from outstanding and compassionate care from everyone on my healthcare team at Emory. The compassion and personal interest from each member of my team formed the foundation for my recovery post surgery and then became the stepping-stones on my journey to find the strength I have today.  

I recently participated in my role as a Patient and Family Advisor at a nursing conference.

Listening to the snide comments and watching the eye rolling of the small group I was assigned to work with; their disinterest wasn’t lost on me. Maybe collectively they were having bad days or simply just didn’t want to be there.  Who am I to judge them?

What gave me pause wasn’t the fact they didn’t want to be there or how they acted. What gave me pause was a commentary by one of the nurses in the group. She said she can’t and doesn’t get personal with her patients. She said if she did, she’d have to go home every night and drink herself to sleep to cope with the health crises of her patients. Clearly she actively practices a healthy dose of self protectionism and aside from being proud of it, she alluded to the fact that anything beyond keeping her patients alive medically wasn’t part of her job.

The commentary gave me significant pause. 

I, nor any other patient or family member has the ability or luxury to simply ignore our conditions and diagnosis’. Trust me, I’ve tried. While we may compartmentalize our emotions and our feelings, they’re with us 24 hours a day. The luxury of avoiding and hiding from our reality is non-existent. If we choose to drink like she suggests until we sleep to cope; mornings arrive with the same bright sunrise and a lucid reminder that our condition and diagnosis are still with us. There is no escape. There is acceptance and there is coming to terms with reality and with the simple fact that life is not fair and perfectly packaged.

I was insulted and I was grateful she had never been one of my nurses.

I couldn’t help but think if she was in my shoes and suddenly became the patient. What kind of care would she want? What would her definitions of respect and dignity be then?

I felt sorry for her. Clearly she had burned out. Clearly she had no interest in caring for the whole patient. Clearly, she was going through the motions. While clinically, she may be an outstanding health professional, well-trained and highly experienced and someone who can save my life; she had no compassion and no heart.

I respected her capabilities and her training, yet I was tremendously saddened that in her attempt to emotionally detach to protect herself, she had lost sight of the fact that the compassion and non-clinical care offered to patients and families is often the most meaningful, precious and healing.

I listened respectfully and told her I could never understand what her job is like and the challenges she must face. I openly acknowledged that I could only understand the patient perspective while silently acknowledging that I hoped our paths would never cross. 

It was sad and it gave me pause as a patient.

5 thoughts on “Moments That Give Pause

  1. Having been a nurse for the better part of my life, her sentiments do not make me proud, and may represent being “burned out”, like a number of nurses working today. Even those who are burned out however, generally maintain some of the compassion, empathy and respect the profession demands–her reserve is apparently on “E”. Nursing as a profession can take a significant toll on one’s physical, mental and emotional capabilities and reserve. That said however, it is also a profession in which there is enormous return on investment. Boundaries are necessary at both the personal and professional levels (like any profession), but one can certainly establish them with compassion, respect and empathy. I can remember many days and nights of heart wrenching experiences with patients and their loved ones, leaving me with feelings of disappointment, angst, anger, sadness, grief, and tremendous loss. I can also remember many more times of great reward, satisfaction and joy. I believe that nurses can make a “difference” in people’s lives in ways that can impact one person’s day, journey, and life. In my experience, those differences have always been in large part a function of compassion, respect and empathy. I am very glad that the experiences with your Emory team have been so meaningful and rewarding for you. They sound like a great group of people, more the norm I believe than the exception of the nurse at the conference.

  2. Jen, as an oncology nurse, this is very sad to hear and I am sorry you had to hear it. This women is an embarrassment to Nursing! As in every profession, there are people who just chose the wrong career path and clearly this women is one of them. For every nurse like this, I know 30 wonderful, caring, compassionate people who are where they are supposed to be helping the patients they made an oath to. I am thankful your care has been in good hands thus far and pray you never come across someone like this again…you DO deserve the best!!

  3. Beautifully written. I am sad for the nurse and so thankful for all those in the medical field that are the polar opposite and offer patients and families warmth, support and their hearts. Love ya!

  4. as always Jen…handeling even the most trying situations with grace and dignity.
    I too hope she stays out of your circle of care…so glad you have been handled with such care and compassion, you deserve only the best!

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