Submitted by by Gina Pearse, BSN, RN-BC
It was the end of night shift. This is the time of day that is busy with medication dispensing, final straightening of the rooms, and making certain all of the paperwork is together for the physicians. Of course, everyone needs to go to the bathroom at the same time in the morning.
The patient in room 220 rang her call light. She was one of many that suddenly needed assistance. She was a tiny woman in her mid nineties. She lived alone in an apartment complex and her family lived out of state. She had volunteers to do light housekeeping and laundry but otherwise she was completely independent. She had been admitted for nausea/vomiting and diarrhea. She just could not manage this illness at home alone.
She was starting to be clinically stable and plans were being made for her to go home. She had no equipment needs and she could walk to the bathroom with just a standby assist. Her call light was just for that reason. She made it to the bathroom and back without difficulties. Her head was hanging downward and a smile never graced her face, she looked sad. I asked if she would like to wash her hands. With a big sigh, she said, “Oh, I suppose so.” The plumbing in the hospital is very old and it was taking a very long time for the water to heat up. I took one last look around the room. Everything was in order; I could check this room off the list. Looking at the patient for the last time I noticed that she still looked very sad. “Is there anything I can do to make your stay better?” I asked. “No,” she said, “everything is fine.”
I wanted to take her statement as fact and believe there was nothing wrong. I could hear another call light going off down the hall. I had two other patients that still needed their medications. A part of me wanted to ignore what I was seeing, check this patient off the list, and finish my shift. I was tired and wanted to be able to go home on time besides her physical needs had been addressed.
Another look at that tiny woman sitting on her bed with her normally straight shoulders, found her hunched over with her head hanging down with a look of defeat on her face. I could not help myself and I had to inquire, so I asked,” I know you said everything was fine but you look so sad. Is there something I can do differently?” In a tiny voice, she said no, her lip quivered and her eyes welled up with tears. I squatted down and took her hand in mine. “Tell me what is wrong,” I said.
I could still hear the call lights. I still had medications to pass. I still was kind of hoping this would not take too long.
“This past year,” she said,” I have lost six of my good friends. Three of them have died over the last three months.” I was shocked; I could not imagine that sense of loss. She went on. “I don’t have any close friends left. I have a young neighbor woman that is nice but it is not the same. There is no one left but me”… and she began to cry.
I wanted to say something brilliant. I wanted to make it better. I had nothing to say. Instead, I put my arms around this tiny woman and I held her close. Her head rested on my shoulder as she sobbed for her losses. In that moment in time, there were no call lights, no medications, and no other important matters. There was no longer any urgency as I held this woman.
That night I was reminded of the impact I can have with my patients. It was no longer important if I saved a life or stopped a medication error from occurring. It did not matter if I skillfully handled a large patient load or delegated tasks. That night I stopped what I was rushing about to accomplish and took a little bit of time for a patient. I did not provide a miracle cure but rather a hug, shoulder, and time. When I left her room that morning, I hoped I had made a difference for her and had left her feeling a little better. I left her room learning how to be a better nurse and that the best thing I can do for my patients is to take the time to listen.