A nurse’s wish

How we treat each other is important.

We may look or speak differently, we may like different things. We may fill our glasses to the brim, or leave them permanently half-full, but the simple fact we all have in common, is that we are human.

We are all just trying to live life the best way we know how, and what separates us shouldn’t define how we treat each other.

But you see, as humans we have somehow lost this concept beneath the opinions and judgement, and we have fumbled with the objective of being kind. Undoubtedly, I think many of us have at some point in our lives been made to feel as if all the kindness in the world had already been used up. Or at least, I know I have.

As a nurse, feeling like people have forgotten how to be kind is sometimes all too common. We understand the heartache that is encased between the walls of our hospitals, we have seen life cease and felt broken at the loss of the ones we have nursed. You may not see the tears, but our own love ones do the moment we set foot inside the door at home and let it overpower us in a way you’ll never quite understand. We grasp the concept that while we see broken people and sickness every day, that you have not and that it is frightening to watch a love one, or be the one, to battle through it. We get it. It’s scary.

But just because that scares you, and just because it becomes difficult to express your emotions in times like these, please do not make us the enemy. We have only ever come to work to care for others. And I promise you that there is no one who woke up in the morning and thought, how could I make my patient’s feel terrible today?

We became nurses, doctors and members of the healthcare system because we wanted to help and because we cared. We didn’t do it because we thought it would be an easy job, because its not. And whether you’re a patient or a family member, it has never been okay to abuse us as if it is, and as if we haven’t given our all to make a difference in your life.

Last week, I looked after a lady who had underwent a rather large surgery on her bowel. These kind of surgeries are always tricky in their recovery and pose an increased risk for complications. Unfortunately, this lady experienced at least three of the complications we predicted, prolonging her stay with us in hospital.

After two weeks in hospital, the drugs we had been giving her had begun to take their toll. Along with not being able to eat proper food just yet, she had lost a considerable amount of weight becoming the shadow of the woman she was on admission.

But yet, she continued to smile. Through her bad days, she laughed deliberately as if to convince herself that sadness was unachievable. And I admired her for it.

Her eldest son came to visit her for the first time on day 10 of her recovery. He had not been there at the day of surgery, and had not visited his mother for months prior. Nevertheless, he had decided to visit and that had made day 10 more bearable for his mother than he would ever know. 

However, when he walked into the hospital ward, he brought with him anger. From the moment he announced his arrival at the nurse’s station, he made it very clear that there was nothing I could have ever done in his mother’s care that would have been good enough.

My smiles and polite welcomes were met with a hostility and doubt in my ability. He was aggressive, and quick to speak negatively in reply to my answers. He frowned so much it seemed that his face had altogether forgotten how to smile. There was seemingly no muscle memory for happiness.

He demanded rather than asking, and he expected people to part in the corridor for him. He was threatening and lumped his weight around as if to beat his chest in a gorilla-like claim to the jungle throne. He was the kind of person I struggled to warm to, but then he never made it easy.

I spent the next four days being berated by this man. Nothing I had done to help his mother was enough. He was rude, and arrogant towards me as if trying to pull me up on something I may have overlooked or not done. He became somewhat child-like in his exasperation, trying to make the entire hospital bend to his will and becoming furious when he felt we did not.

He didn’t like the way the tape was stuck down to his mother’s drains – it made him feel uncomfortable. He didn’t like that there wasn’t enough cutlery on the bedside table and thought there should have been a separate spoon for each container on the dinner tray. He didn’t like that there wasn’t a supplies caddy in each patient’s room and requested that 55 pads be brought to his mother’s room immediately ‘just in case’. The list was relentless.

His final complaint came on day four. He had not liked seeing his mother in a hospital gown stating that it had made him feel uncomfortable for her to not look like his mother. As it was explained, there were prominent medical reasons as to why she could no longer be dressed in her own night clothes that pertained to the protection of the central lines now used to deliver life-prolonging medication. For most people, this would suffice as an explanation. But for this man, it became the pump his anger fuelled on.

In reply to my explanation, his volatile nature exploded. In the hallway, he aggressively placed his face centimetres away from mine whilst repeatedly quoting his chosen sentence without intermission. It was an intimidating tactic that I was sure was meant to shake me to my boots, but I held strong, fuelled by my own internal anger that someone could be treating me this way when all I had done was try to care for his mother in the very best way I could.

He continued his childish tantrum for over an hour, aiming to pull me down with his cruel words. When finally asked to refrain from being rude his reply formed as a taunt a school child might have used, stating that while I thought he was rude, he thought I was unhelpful and a poor excuse for a nurse, concluding the argument with “So, checkmate!”.

I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief that a grown man could let anger control him so profoundly that this was the most appropriate retort he could find. And so I left it at that, no longer seeing the point in any further conversation with this man.

But that didn’t stop him from calling back to the ward once he had left to further harass me, telling the administration officer that he was my husband in the attempt to be put through directly to my dect phone. It was an onslaught of never-ending aggressive intimidation, as if he thought he could make me break to his will.

And all over a hospital gown? I was speechless at the stupidity of it all, and how it had escalated to needing security to scan incoming phone calls.

But while I sit here and struggle to comprehend how it became the biggest event of the day, I have enough clarity of thought to understand where this outburst stems from. Having never seen his mother so sick before, having not been there for the operation in the first place, and having so little medical knowledge, there is a certain fear that envelopes him. It’s like a vine slowing climbing through his entire body, outgrowing logical reasoning. He can’t think beyond the fear, and all it threatens to take from him. The fear leaves him with no control over the situation, and that becomes frightening for a man who quite obviously has little experience with being in such a state. So he resorts to anger, and I became the punching bag.

It’s not an excuse, but I have to believe that in a different circumstance he could practice human interaction with a little more humanity and kindness than he bestowed upon me. His words, though I know to be untrue, have still had an impact on me. They’ve left me to question how I could spend so much time caring for someone, only to have it thrown back in my face as not being good enough? How is there people out there in the world who think treating others this way to get what you want is okay? When did the world become a place where we hurt the ones who have only ever endeavoured to do good?

And sadly, this man isn’t the only one to have ever treated me in this way over the last three years I have been a nurse.

The bottom line is that we have lost an element of kindness I think we used to have. And the very fact that we are human means that we are going to let our emotions dictate our actions, so I will always understand why. But please, before you cave to the fear, think about the journey others are facing.  Try to harness a little kindness first, see it from someone else’s point of view before you open your mouth. How you treat others has more of an impact on them than you could ever really know.

I am a nurse. My whole life is centred on caring. I only have your best interests at heart. So please, be kind. This is my nurse’s wish.

d x