I have always believed it is my responsibility to help those who have a difficult time helping themselves. I want to be an advocate for my patients and think this is a necessary part of a nurse's job. Sometimes this means I can help make their life just a little bit easier and sometimes it means I can teach them how to help themselves, thus being a part of a larger and broader social movement. Either way, it is a privilege.
It can be very draining and sometimes I work the whole day and don't feel appreciated for what I do. Patients have yelled at me, "What kind of nurse ARE you?" or they might hang up the phone on me. Sometimes they speak to me with an edge in their voice that says they expect something and if they don't get it they'll be mad.
I need to constantly remind myself that they are a product of their upbringing. This doesn't mean it is all right to speak to me or anyone else this way. Their lives are chaotic and most have never been taught how to communicate in an appropriate manner. Maybe they are so used to being looked down upon and treated with little respect that they, in turn, treat others with disrespect.
I have had many occasions when I've felt I made a difference in someone's life and have felt appreciated. These encounters are part of why I can do this job. Here are examples: a homeless man came to the clinic in a wheelchair. His gout, a very painful disease, had flared up. His leg was red and swollen and he was shaking with pain as he answered the questions I asked. While he was waiting for the doctor to see him I spent a few minutes listening to him tell stories about when he traveled around the world as a musician. I hadn't talked to him in a few months until he called again the other day. His gout had flared up again and his voice was shaking. As I talked to him he said, "For some reason, you have taken a special interest in me. I don't exactly know why you have but I think you are a very kind person". That one sentence said a lot. Was I the only person who he felt has cared about him? Did he not feel he deserved my kindness? I strive to take a special interest in all my patients and to treat them all with kindness. I thanked him for telling me this but I doubt he understands how important it was for me to hear it.
Last week, a woman came to the clinic. She was crying because her sister had died the night before from a brain tumor. She hadn't slept in a few weeks, anticipating her sister's death. She had an appointment at the funeral home later that day and she needed to pick up her six grandchildren from school. She takes care of them everyday so her daughter can work. She was my age but looked 20 years older. Her life has been more difficult than mine. After talking to her I made sure she could see the doctor in the next hour so she could be with her family. About two hours later, I happened to walk by a room from which she was coming out after seeing the doctor. She walked over to me, still crying, and put her arms around me. As she hugged me, she thanked me for helping her. She asked me if she could show me a picture of her grandchildren. She pulled from her purse a picture of six children standing with her, a tree in the background. As she pointed to each of them telling me their names I saw her happy and hopeful.
These are the stories that make me feel like I'm doing a good job.