“No knowledge is wasted,” goes a common saying. This is very true, or how would one have thought that a skill learned in pre-K would prove useful in nursing practice many years later?
I went to a school of nursing in Nigeria, where more than 250 languages are spoken, although English is the official language. The sponsoring hospital was a place to meet patients of diverse tongues and cultures, as well as those with unfamiliar names.
I was a final-year student on my psychiatry rotation. During my first week, we admitted a patient from another country. His first and only language was French, but with a pronunciation different from that used by the French. This patient had a name that was unfamiliar to us nurses and physicians on the unit. A relative who could speak English had come with him (and no, we had access to neither a blue phone nor a registered interpreter). We strove to say his name correctly, assisted by one of the nurses, who spoke French in a slightly different way from his own and could understand our patient and act as interpreter when the patient's family member was absent.
One night, when I was the student nurse on the night shift with the nursing staff, our French-speaking patient had a violent episode and tried to climb out the window on the second floor. The physician on call was informed; he ordered that the patient's PRN medications be given, but they had little effect. The nursing sister—a psychiatric nurse—tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't listen to anyone, obey any command, or answer to his name.
As a student nurse nearing graduation, I watched their efforts with keen interest, thinking of how I might help. Then I remembered that, when I'd told my grandfather, a traditional healer and herbalist, that my next rotation would be on the psychiatric floor, he advised me that if one called a mentally ill person by name, she or he would halt.
So I got the patient's chart, looked at the name again, and used my pre-K knowledge of sounding out words to figure out how to say the patient's name correctly. When I called it out, the patient stopped shaking the window to turn and look at me. The nursing sister noticed this and urged me to talk to him. I tried to do so in my very bad French (what little I remembered from high school), and kept it up until the security department came and got him down from the wall. By then the physician on call was there to assess him and prescribe more treatment.
I soon completed my rotation and moved on to another, but the experience remained with me, so much so that I later went back to that unit to ask about our patient. He'd been discharged, but had left a thank-you card for me (probably written with the help of a relative) that read, “To the nurse who knows my name … Thank you for calling me back!”
This experience made me determined to always try to say my patients' names correctly as I moved forward in my nursing career. I admit I haven't always been successful, but I always ask how to correctly pronounce names I'm uncertain about.
Now in the United States, the “great melting pot,” it's even more important to me to be able to pronounce names correctly, and as a teacher, I encourage my students to do just that. Then it will become part of them as they rise higher in the nursing profession. Nor do I forget to remind them of the word-sounding methods of pre-K: “a/ says ah …”