It required no skill. No critical thinking. Nothing that my degree in nursing prepared me for. As a new nurse, sometimes I feel as though caring is all I have to offer. Well, that and a lot of questions on every shift.
My patient had just received a devastating diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer. He was not home in comfort. He was sitting alone in a hospital room, wearing the slightly awkward — albeit necessary — fashion trend known as the dreaded hospital gown. All he wanted were some real clothes, namely the clothes in the gym bag in his car, to make the hospital a little less hospital-y. On his admission to the hospital, he was wearing street clothes. But in the shuffle of moving him from the ED up to the floor, we lost all his belongings.
Dayshift and night shift were diligent about calling security and sending someone outside into the frigid winter for the last 6 shifts to find his Buick LeSabre. His Buick was parked in one of the hospital parking lots by the outpatient clinic on the other side of the hospital per report of the patient. Per report of security, however, it was nowhere to be found.
After I had gotten report, I realized it was my turn to call security and do my part. When I made the call, they were quite resistant about heading outside in the sub-zero temperatures. I told them I’d go with them. I had made a new friend in Ute, a security guard. As kind as she was, she did not understand — or share — my excitement about fulfilling my patient’s wish. Still she went, and because she went, I say hello to her fondly every time I see her in passing.
The hospital has two moderately large sides to it: the inpatient hospital side, and the outpatient clinic side. In order to cut across the snowy ice land outside, Ute and I took a shortcut through the sky bridge that connects the two sides. I felt like a kid along for the ride since I offered no expertise on how to navigate the hospital’s winding and confusing corridors and staircases that never seem to lead where I want them to take me.
Although Ute very obviously thought it trivial, she ventured out with me and remained with me the entire time in good spirit. We finally found my patient’s LeSabre right where he described: in the lot outside Same Day Care, covered with at least 2 feet of snow. I smiled brightly and could not contain my enthusiasm. I cannot speak for Ute, but for me this unbridled enthusiasm helped make the burden of digging the car out of the snow more than bearable.
I came back on the floor clad in my winter coat and wool mittens. But most importantly, I came back with my patient’s gym bag slung over my shoulder. True shock and awe swept across his face at my willingness to achieve such a feat. He went to sleep that night still in a hospital bed, but in his own clothes.
Our patients’ goals are often not our own. When we failed him and lost his possessions, this revealed our inability to hold both at the same time. We lost sight of him like we lost sight of his clothes. Our goals medically involve fixing the very narrow and often impossible problem that our patient presented to us. This is a fallacy. Because no one has just one problem that can be fixed. If we view our role as a nurse as a fixer, we will burn out faster than it takes to become an expert in our field. If we view our role as a collaborator, and hold honoring patient goals higher than our own, we cast aside a very heavy weight. We no longer have to fix; we simply have to honor. When we place ourselves as equal to our patients instead of higher than, we accomplish such a feat. With every simple act in nursing, we can always honor.
Honoring this patient did require effort. Honoring this patient did require both physical and psychological discomfort. Honoring this patient required advocacy at its core. Honoring this patient required a nurse.
Danielle Gillaspie, RN, BSN
Oncology Nurse Advisor