Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 23, 2014

WHOLE FAMILY: Being the patient is humbling, educational

Being the patient is humbling, educational

Goshen News

---- — Super cliché, I know: The nurse as the patient. But I can’t help but write about it. It’s too ripe with comment, critique, color and ... cliché, I guess.

Yep, so I was the patient recently — still am, I suppose. You might remember I ruptured my calcaneus (“Achilles”) tendon while jumping rope? And it needed surgery to be best repaired? Well, I had that surgery March 11 and I’m mostly home and recovering.

I’ve learned gobs and gobs, and every day I get something new to consider. Here’s a potpourri selection of my nurse-as-patient revelation with specific thoughts to nurses.

• No matter how much worse it could be, if your injury or sickness is bad for you, it’s bad for you. I’m not wallowing in self-pity, but neither was I comforted, at least initially, by the words, “Well, it could be worse.” My tendon was snapped, leaving me hobbled; that was bad enough. Nurse: Allow your patients a few minutes to be angry about their circumstances. It’s OK to agree with them when they sullenly say, “This sucks” before you try to comfort them.

• Varied and eccentric worries might plague you, things others might find odd. My thoughts before surgery day? What underwear do I wear? What if I say something crazy while doped up? What about the no-coffee headache I’m sure to have? Will they laugh at my flabby body while I’m under? Should I shave my legs before I go in? What if I die? Will I know I have died? Nurse: Don’t assume you know what concerns your patient. Ask. Share some of the odd (to you) concerns so they know they’re not alone in their thoughts and that you get it.

• In many situations, the main thing is NOT the main thing. Sickness and injury birth dozens of offspring troubles. My heel itself doesn’t hurt a bit; my heel is no problem. What’s awful is the loss of income for at least six weeks because I can’t work, the extra time and tremendous effort it takes to do the simplest errand, the displeasure of a dirty house because I can’t easily clean well, the mild depression that wants to settle in at least once a day, the enormous financial burden. Nurse: Think about your patient as mother, father, student, worker — whatever he or she is. How does the illness/issue affect those roles? So much is touched by even a seemingly benign procedure or condition; don’t forget that.

• I don’t care who you are, why you’re in your predicament or whether you want it and expect it or not, but you deserve to be treated as an intelligent decision maker of your healthcare options even while you appreciate the provider’s recommendations. The one run-in (verbal) I had with someone? When she told me the doctor said I’m not “allowed” to remove my wound dressing. “It’s my leg,” I said, “and I’ll do whatever I want with it.” When I asked for the rationale behind the “recommendation” to not remove the dressing, she said, “for healing.” Really? Patronize much? Nurse: Remove the words “allow” and “may” or “permission” or whatever from your patient-education vocabulary. Understand patients are the decision-makers in their healthcare, and treat them as such. Be able to explain, when asked, the rationale behind a strong recommendation. Some patients really need to understand to comply.

• Oh so cliché, but it’s the little things that matter. So much. The nurse who used my name? Loved her. The nurse who took the time to answer questions even though I interrupted her day? Loved her. The nurse anesthetist who listened to every one of those odd concerns — even, “Please keep me covered when you flip me over?” Loved her too. Oh and my doctor? She TOOK A PICTURE of my ruptured heel for me. I asked on a whim, and when she said she’d try, I figured no way. But she did it. Loved her. Nurse: No kidding, it’s those kind words, neutral touches, remembering a detail about a patient’s life, being tolerant and patient, answering a question. Those little things matter much.

• Being a patient is a wildly humbling and vulnerable position and you just might react to that helpless feeling by being a little cantankerous, crazy, bummed out or hysterical. For the little while I was out — general anesthesia out — I was at the absolute mercy of the staff and of Providence. I had no control whatsoever over anything. Being injured, being laid-up, I’m still really vulnerable. I haven’t yet figured out how to get a cup of coffee from the kitchen to the living room on my own, even. Most of us don’t like feeling helpless. Nurse: Think hard about how it feels to be so vulnerable and dependent on others, how trust is so crucial, how humbling it is to have someone else see you naked or wipe your bottom or wash your face. Preserve patients’ dignity, give them as much autonomy as they can handle. Be patient when they’re grumpy because they’re feeling vulnerable. Just love them.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”