Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Being a Patient Brings New Insights

By E’Louise Ondash, RN

It is said that doctors make the worst patients. Having cared for a few, I’d have to agree that this is mostly true. Physicians are used to running the show; they don’t take easily to taking directions or not being in charge.

What about nurses? 

Although most nurses would also say being in charge is definitely preferable, I think they are probably better patients overall.  At least I think I’ve been a pretty good patient, and my declaration is based on personal experience; I’ve had more practice at being a patient than I’d like to remember.

Up until my mid-20s, except for a tonsillectomy and having a baby, I managed to avoid the hospital.  Then I had a bad accident that put me on the other side of the bed for a month, followed by several months recuperating at home with a lot of help. 

As a nurse-patient, my body of knowledge was both a blessing and a curse.
Having worked in acute care, I knew how a hospital functioned and what to expect. As a nurse-patient, I didn’t feel like a stranger in a strange land. But it meant that I knew the possibilities of all the dangers and pitfalls, as well as the impediments under which those who cared for me labored. I knew that the unit’s nurses and aides were likely to be understaffed and overworked, so I was reluctant to “bother” them unless it was absolutely necessary. 

I also was aware of what the nurses and aides said about “difficult” patients during change-of-shift reports or while on their breaks, and I didn’t want that difficult-patient label.
On the flip side, I made a point to identify myself as one of their own. I hoped that this would get me a little more attention and consideration – perhaps even a few favors. At the same time, though, I didn’t want to appear as though I were playing the “nurse card.”
You can see the fine line I had to walk.

Maybe I didn’t give the staff enough credit, but I couldn’t avoid analyzing my situation or my correct role as a fellow caregiver who was now in need. All of this probably was over-thinking on my part – a product of my youth and insecurity, not to mention my fear and frustration. And with broken bones and internal injuries, my helplessness was a scary thing. 

Unable to move, I was completely dependent upon my caretakers. I worried about my call button slipping to an irretrievable place. I watched the clock, not wanting to request more pain meds too soon, but not wanting to wait too long.

I felt I had to keep track of every element of my care.

Looking back on it, I wouldn’t wish that kind of experience on anyone, nor would I choose it if given the option, but being a patient was a valuable experience for me. It brought greater understanding of what it’s like for patients, and certainly more empathy and sympathy for all those in hospital beds who depend on us. Other nurses have told me similar stories.

Have you ever been a patient, and if so, what did you learn?

Do you remember any one nurse or aide who was particularly helpful? 

Tell us about it.

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