My Zen

Patience for My Patients

This may be the first post I have actually written about my career. In 2.5 years of writing…

Yesterday I picked up a 12-hour shift at work. I have the next 3 days off, so I figured why not. We were short staffed…per usual, and I always feel like we can use a boost on our finances.

So I did it.

Everything was going very well. I love my job. I love caring for my patients. The work is always challenging and I am always learning. I have the opportunity to see people at their worst and help them achieve their best. I can’t explain the joy I feel when I see a stroke patient walk again for the first time after 2 months, or when they finally pass that swallowing evaluation and can come off of a tube feeding. It is a wonderful feeling. I become like a proud mother and get very excited.

However, every job has its real challenges. Sometimes, we have really smooth days. Everyone is progressing as expected. Other days, they have sudden neurological changes, or something happens to change their prognosis and no one notices any differences in their clinical presentation and by the time we do, it is too late. This is the trouble with medicine. Doctors and Nurses, Therapists and Dietitians, Family and Friends. We do everything we can to help patients heal, but we are also people. We make mistakes. Some events are out of our control. But I promise, we are doing everything we can.

Yesterday afternoon, my day became challenging. A lot can happen in 12 hours. To be brief, I was working with a patient who needed a lot of care. This patient was fragile and needed close monitoring for optimal improvement. I spent a lot of time in this patients room doing everything from talking with the family, to helping the patient go to the bathroom, to changing the patient linens, to managing the patient’s vital signs, nutrition and neurological assessments and tests. This is not an abnormal part of my day. This is my job.

Some days I have more patience for my patient’s and their families than others.

I got home last night, nearly in tears because I felt like I hadn’t done enough. I felt unappreciated by this patient’s loved ones. I said, “how come people don’t understand that I am just one person and it is physically impossible for me to be in two places at the same time? I am doing the best that I can. don’t they understand that I have other patients who need me just as much?”

Trust me, I want to be in all the places at the same time. I want to be there immediately when I am needed. No matter how small the need, but the reality is that in the hospital, we have to prioritize care because there just is not enough time for this to be possible. We do the best that we can.

Lance, in his always-supportive, calming tone gave me a huge hug and said, “they have tunnel vision. to them, your patient is their father, mother, grandparent, son, daughter, niece, nephew, friend. to them, you don’t have any other patients. to them, you are only there for them and your patient. this patient and this family are the most important. always. at least, thats how each patient and their family sees things.”

He was right.

Sometimes I forget to remember that piece. I take medical knowledge for granted. I know what is urgent and what is not. I know what actions that I take will make a difference right now, and which ones can wait. That is most often not true of patients and their families. They don’t know. They are scared and worried. They want answers. Right now. So would I.

Even the most challenging patients deserve our full attention and compassion. They don’t deserve impatience. They are all equally important.

So deep breaths. Everything will be okay. All we can do is our very best.

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