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Every now and then I run into a patient that reminds me why I do this job. It’s not the ones that we save, the ones we see over and over again, the ones who are generally pleasant, polite and just nice, but one who manages to touch that part of you that lives behind the wall that so many of us put up to stay detached and uninvolved. That remove becomes so ingrained that it is a reflex. So often we shy away from letting our patients too close for fear that something untoward might happen. Maintaining our professional distance is a survival tactic in our increasingly chaotic work world. Many times the ones that say, “Thank you.” and truly mean it are those that break the wall.
In our age of patient satisfaction scores, core measures, Joint Commission surveys, evidence-based practice and the overall stress of caring for the sick and dying it gets a bit dark, like the light on an overcast day. It’s still light out, but the clouds filter it down to a dull gray glow. But that simple act of saying “Thanks,” can make the sun come out.
My patient the other night was one such person. As I introduce myself, I hear the words so many of us dread, “I remember you!” Immediately my mind starts turning, rooting around in the dark recesses trying valiantly to match the name, the face and the situation of where I know him. But I can’t. It’s blank.
“That’s great,” I reply, “No offense I can’t seem to remember you though. ” And it’s true, I’ve drawn a complete blank. Usually I have a pretty great recall of the patients I have taken care of, but not tonight, not even now. “I’m hoping I did OK.” I finish.
“Oh yeah!” he enthuses, “You were great. You took care of me when I was here for 20-some odd days with my valve surgery. It’s good to see you again!” Slowly the details are starting to come back, but really nothing. From there I go into the normal nursing things as we chat.
Through the night he tells everyone that will listen how awesome our floor is, how dedicated and talented our docs are and how great of a nurse I am. I bring in a pair of my nurses to hear his mechanical valve and he says, “Y’know, Wanderer is really great! A number 1 nurse!” as they listen to his clicking heart. I wink at him and say, “OK, how much do I owe ya’ for that one?”
The next evening as I come on and get report, the off-going nurse says, “He is so glad you’re back. I told him I wasn’t sure, but he said he sure hoped you were!”
Sure enough when I walk in, he’s got a huge grin that I’m back.
So through the night we continue to chat. He tells me how he thinks that our team, the physicians and the nurses at our hospital are amazing, that he wouldn’t go anywhere else for his care. Compared to so many of the folks we have taken care of lately, who pretty much hates us, it is a needed breath of fresh air.
Finally in the morning as I do my final rounds before heading out he says, “I just wanted to say it was a pleasure to have you as my nurse, thank you for all you do.”
I grin, turn and say, “No, the pleasure was all mine.” as I walked off the unit with a bounce in my step, a small bit of faith in humanity restored.