Friday, February 06, 2009

Nurses and Patients

I’ve written about the doctor-patient relationship often. Whether it’s the need for communication and mutual respect or why primary care is important for patients with chronic illness, there’s much to say about this incredibly important relationship.

But when I read “Can Nurses Care Too Much?” in yesterday’s NYT, it occurred to me that I haven’t written as much about this other incredibly important relationship: nurse-patient.

In my personal life, I know a lot of nurses, and know how invested they are in their jobs and their patients. In my professional life, I often have nursing students in class and am always impressed with how engaged they are in what they do and how animated they become when patient care is discussed.

But it is in my patient life where I really see these qualities firsthand. For long stretches in my life I’ve spent several weeks a year as an inpatient, and from all those trips I can say this:

Nurses are the ones who can make (or break) a hospital stay. They are the ones who make sure my nebulizer medicines arrive on time, who jump in to give me chest physiotherapy if the physical therapist on the floor is tied up with someone else.

They are the ones whose conversations keep me distracted or encouraged, depending on what I need, and the ones who know that sometimes, visiting hours just don’t apply. In college, they calmed down my worried parents when I was an inpatient several states away, and they know that for someone who types all day long, getting an IV on the top of my hand is less than ideal.

Sure, I’ve had some negative experiences, just like I’ve had some doctor’s appointments I’d rather not repeat again. But the vivid memories, the faces and names and actions that stay fresh in mind, belong to the many nurses who have made serious medical situations a lot more tolerable.

Can nurses care too much?

That’s a pretty difficult question to answer because giving care can be such an emotional experience. (Be sure to read the NYT article, because the nurse-writer covers this poignantly.)

But what I do know is that when I’m wheeled onto a floor and my nurse comes in to greet me, or when I’m visiting a loved one and I see how compassionately and confidently their nurses speak with them, I am really glad that they do care.

In unrelated news, I just found out this week that Library Journal named Life Disrupted one of 2008’s Best Consumer Health Books. Check out the full list for some great titles.


Lyrehca said...

Congrats on the accolades!

Anonymous said...

I too read this article in the NYTimes. It spoke to the intensity of caring relationships between nurses and patients, but did not actually answer the question of whether or not, or in what circumstances caring could become TOO much.

I’ve had good nurses as comforting allies, who transformed my crappy hospital experiences into tolerable ones. I cannot think of a time in my own care when it was too much, but what leapt to mind were the words of Amilca, a 26-year-old leukemia patient whom I interviewed for my book Everything Changes:

“I remember seeing a sign at a nurses station that said, ‘Angels at work.’ How do you question an angel?”

I interpret her words to mean that while doctors may act god-like, compassionate nurses can become untouchable too. We need enough professional distance so we can question their choices.

Farty Girl said...

I was surprised to discover, when befriending a couple nurses, how much a nurse knows. I think they have this stigma of being just the doctor's helper. But often times, they know just as much as the doctor does, and are an integral part of the healing process.

Jeanne said...


Congratulations on the Library Journal honor!!


Laurie said...

Thanks for the congratulations!

Kairol, you bring up a really interesting point, and a good reminder about distance and questioning.

Farty Girl, I'd say it's not just a question of knowing as much as a doc, but having different kinds of knowledge, too.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the award. Well deserved!

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