August 6, 2014

See Past What it Seems (Memoirs of a Cancer Nurse)

Every hospital nurse is aware of or has experienced caring for the patient who has an extended hospital stay or who is what we call a "frequent flyer" because his/her health problems sadly land him/her in the hospital so often.  Some of these patients are the sweetest, kindest, and most courageous people I've ever met and we nurses look forward to serving them.  However, some of those patients (and families) yell at nurses/doctors/housekeepers/everyone, make incredible demands, seem so be completely ungrateful for all the running around and helping that others do on their behalf, and expect service as if they are staying at a Ritz Carlton Hotel.

When you walk onto the floor in the morning and see that you have been assigned to that patient, you do a little internal groan knowing that it's going to be a long day (or three days if it's your first shift of the week!).  Perhaps that may sound harsh or mean, but while most of us nurses are usually eager to help, serve, love, and nurse our patients back to health and are very compassionate to our patients' suffering and pain........sometimes the level of disrespect, swearing, and rudeness flung at us from some of our patients can get a little wearing during a long 12-14 hour day.

Towards the end of my experience as a nurse at MD Anderson Cancer Center, I walked onto the floor one morning and saw that I was assigned to one of those patients with one of those families.  The patient had been there for a few weeks and though I had yet to take care of her, I had heard all about Mrs. S and her family: demanding, ungrateful, rude, needy, etc.  I had seen how worn out one of my colleagues had been the week before after she had been taking care of Mrs. S all day long and when I saw my assignment on the board, I knew I was in for a busy 3 days.

While checking morning lab work and getting report, I resolved to myself that I was going to be overly sugary-sweet to this patient and her family and treat them as if they were at the Hotel Ritz Carlton and then maybe I could spare myself from their wrath (I'm far too sensitive of a person and I pretty much fall apart at anyone being upset with me let along yelling at me).  And boy did I ever lay it on thick!  I smiled and schmoozed and ran around all day trying to keep Mrs. S, her husband, and company happy pain-free, comfy, well-fed, and satisfied.  It was exhausting!!  She and her family remained pretty demanding but at least they hadn't been too unreasonable and I made it through the day without being yelled at--win!

The next day was much the same, but in the middle of my shift I had a little more time to be in her room and make small talk about her life, mine, our interests, etc.  We found our lives and pasts had many things in common though there was a 45 year age difference between us.  She and her husband opened up about their fears, stresses, and heartache surrounding her cancer diagnosis and my heart softened to their situation.  The stress they were under was huge, and while it may not have excused their rude demands, I suddenly had a lot more compassion for them both.  After that heart-to-heart conversation, something changed and Mrs. S and her family suddenly became very warm, pleasant, and kind to me.  We had bonded.

 When I went into her room to say goodbye to her at the end of the evening, Mrs. S gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and said to all her family who were in the room, "This is my very favorite one!"

The third day I took care of her, I walked onto the floor looking forward to seeing her and taking care of her.  My fake smiles and kindness towards Mrs. S and her family actually became genuine and I felt a little ashamed at my initial attitude towards them and my failure to think of them as anything besides a nuisance.  Underneath all their prickles, they were wonderful people in their own right who just needed a little extra love, patience, and understanding during such a difficult and confusing chapter in their lives.

I don't remember how much longer she was on our floor (a few more weeks maybe?), but every day that I worked, I made sure to stop by her room to say "hello" and see how she was doing, because she kind of became "my very favorite one" for awhile, too.

A few years ago, I happened upon this post from the "Brave Girls Club" blog.  It left an impression on me and to this day I often think about all the opportunities I miss to be truly kind to someone because of their seeming rudeness, irresponsibility, or aloofness to others and other situations beyond their own.  Don't they realize how rude they are being?  Don't they see how inconsiderate their behavior is?  Don't they ever think of anyone besides themselves??  There are so many times such questions go through my mind as I interact daily with others.  I silently keep my frustrations to myself and just do my best to "deal with" those people and situations as little as possible instead of considering what difficulties they might be facing and then reaching out to them in kindness.  I am grateful for my memory of Mrs. S to help me remember to be a little more gentle, a little more kind, a little more understanding--because heaven knows I need that reminder!  Bad behavior should never be acceptable or an excuse, but is often an indicator that what it is needed is for others to see past what it seems and reach out with love and compassion.  I would hate to miss out on more opportunities to meet and serve great people just because their kindred spirits are masked by prickles of pain and fear.
Thank you for those frequent reminders, Mrs. S and family.  I still think of you often and fondly. :)

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