NURSES IN the ED don't always remember their patients after discharge. Patients come and go quickly, and we often do not take care of them for very long. However, we may profoundly touch the lives of those we have cared for, however briefly, without even realizing it. I always knew this, but the lesson was reinforced when I was assigned one day to work in the pediatric section of the ED.
That morning began uneventfully. I started my shift by receiving a report from the night nurse on the two stable patients who were pending a disposition, then making all of the required emergency checks and stocking up on supplies that had run out from the night before. Afterward, I introduced myself to my first patient and conducted an assessment. This patient was discharged a short time later.
My second patient was a boy who was accompanied by his grandmother. Before I could introduce myself, the grandmother exclaimed in a cheerful voice, “Ms. Appel! How are you? I remember you from when you took care of me in the ED when I needed to go to the ICU for my heart. I remember you because you were so kind to me and you listened to me. You're the best nurse I ever had.”
Taken aback, I couldn't believe she remembered who I was because I didn't remember her at all. I asked her to remind me what her name was. To my surprise, I recognized her name but still didn't recall anything else about her or my experience taking care of her.
Right after that, the pediatric ED began to hustle and bustle, and I was pulled away for other priorities. While I was triaging patients, the young boy and his grandmother were given their discharge papers and I noticed they were about to leave. Before I could go to them to say goodbye and wish them well, they came over to me in the triage room. The grandmother gave me a tight hug, thanked me again for caring for her, and said she was thrilled that I had been her grandson's nurse as well.
I have always believed in being compassionate while caring for patients. I try to have a smile on my face and look happy even when it is busy and a lot is going on. I find that often a nurse's happiness and cheerful disposition rubs off on the patients and puts them in a better mood. And throughout my career, I have also learned that sometimes patients do not find it acceptable to hug their nurses, or vice versa, because they may feel it crosses professional boundaries. As nurses, we are taught that we have to respect professional boundaries and maintain a certain amount of emotional distance with our patients in order to cultivate a therapeutic relationship with them.
However, while our patients teach us more than we can ever teach them, it is also true that we have the opportunity to leave a lasting impression on our patients. In some cases, I think it is better for both the patient and the nurse to allow themselves to feel something that transcends the professional bond. In this case, which occurred long before we appreciated the need for social distancing, I found the hug to be appropriate, promoting a therapeutic but professional emotional moment between the patient's grandmother, the patient, and me.
In the blink of an eye, nurses and our patients change each other with every single encounter. I'm so glad that I have the ability to care for patients in a way that truly touches them.
I became a nurse because I wanted to take care of people and make a difference in their lives. When I'm emotionally touched by my patients, it's an added bonus.