I am writing this article so that you, the new nurse, can see that nursing is truly a calling; your patients will profoundly change your life. Today I share with you one story about how my role as a nurse evolved into being “part of their family.”
Even after two decades in this profession, I still feel the impressions my care has had on my patients’ lives, every single day, more than they will ever know. When you treat a patient like you would a sister, you become part of their family. They may never remember your name, but they will always remember how you cared for them.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Two decades? How is this old lady going to inspire me?” (Side Note: Two decades FLY by; you’ll be there soon!) As a 21-year-old, brand new RN and single mom working the night shift, I remember hearing “old nurses’’ share amazing stories about their patient experiences and thinking, I don’t think that will ever happen to me. I aspired to be the best bedside nurse I could be, and sure enough, I have had incredible connections with patients over the years.
No real names are used for these real-life patient experiences for privacy reasons.
I was the charge nurse on the night shift. I would have to take all the patients who arrived to triage. Many times, we would have repeat patients. This night was no exception.
The secretary says, “Janine, we have another triage coming in. Do you want me to give her to someone else?”
I responded, “What’s her story?”
She says, “She’s been here quite a few times with gallbladder pain, Mary Smith.”
My response, “Oh Mary, give her to me; I know this patient all too well at this point.”
Mary was a 17-year-old patient who would be noncompliant, eat terrible foods, have a gallbladder attack, and would end up in my triage. Her mother and I would joke because she would tell her every single time not to eat the greasy foods, but Mary never listened. Mary would giggle in between her pain. “You better be my nurse when I deliver,” she said. Sure enough, the day she was in labor, I was there.
This story carried on for ten years. We laughed and laughed throughout her visits to the hospital, every labor, and every baby. Mary’s sister, Kim, had four babies, and Mary, her sister, and her mother all supported Kim in labor. That family made me feel comfortable as if I was another sister or aunt.
When Mary had her last baby, she was diagnosed with a rare benign brain tumor in which she may go completely blind during childbirth. She had to deliver at a tertiary center instead of our small community hospital. Her mom asked for my phone number one day after a visit from triage because Mary wanted me to be there through Facetime. I was lucky enough to Facetime with them for the delivery. It felt like I was right there with her.
Then, I received an invitation to Mary’s wedding. I was delighted and wondered if anyone else I knew would be there. My husband and I went, and we were the only medical personnel. Mary’s mother said, “We had to invite you; you’re part of our family.” That night, we took a picture of me, the bride, and all seven children, the oldest, now taller than me. I went to the restroom and cried tears of joy. I never knew how deeply this family cared for me and my husband. The bride asked if I could help her in the bathroom because of the gigantic train of her wedding dress. She said, “I know you would never shame me for having to pee while holding my dress.” And, she was right. I would never and felt so special when she trusted me to care for her on the biggest day of her life.
A year later it was a blizzard and we were about to head out to the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in our city when there was a knock on the door. It was Mary’s mother. I let her in after a big hug. She had a gift for me. Of course, I was speechless when she gave me a gift, and then the tears started rolling again. When I opened the gift, it was a canvas picture of the bride, me and the seven kids. I was speechless. She said again, “I had to give you this because you are our family, Janine. I want to get together this summer for a cookout so your children can meet my grandchildren.” I am planning on hosting a cookout to get to know one another in a personal way.
I think back nowadays to when she first arrived in my triage bed. I could have been annoyed or overwhelmed, but instead, I treated her like I do every patient, like a family member. You never know the impression you leave on a patient when they walk out the door, but they will never know the true lasting memories they left with me.
Janine Kelbach, BSN RNC-OB, is a wife, mom of 2 boys (and 2 Great Danes), educator and author of the book, Entreprenurse: 30+ Nurses Turn Into Business Owners and Share Their Secrets to Success. She has been a Freelance Health Content Writer since 2013 and is the CEO of Write RN. She hosts The Savvy Scribe Podcast and owns SavvyNurseWriter.com. Her team of RN writers help healthcare companies with their content and social needs.