I've written before about my fears surrounding death within my role as a nurse, and now I'm dealing with something that may be harder: emotional people! It seems so silly.
A brief explanation of how the nursing program works: we have classes in person, online classes, and clinicals. Clinicals are the days we go to a facility (hospital, nursing home, etc) to do hands on nursing. At the beginning of each semester we are taught various skills in a lab, and clinical is our chance to 'practice' on real people. This semester our clinicals have been at a long term care facility, which is basically a nursing home, but the area that we are in mostly has older people there for rehab after some type of surgery.
I've done clinicals for my Certified Nursing Assistant class at a different nursing home here in town, and there is such a difference between those clinicals and the nursing programs. I am now in a nursing student position instead of CNA, so I do more meds, injections, and wound care as opposed to the CNA, who takes care of things like brief changes, feeding, bed changes, etc.
So for most of this semester I've been performing a lot of the nursing duties, which doesn't give a lot of time for patient interaction. We interact when we give them meds, check glucose levels, and administer insulin, but it's for such a short time because there are 20+ other people to give meds to within a certain time frame. A couple weeks ago the state inspectors were at the facility so everyone was on high alert, and the nurses were hesitant to let us students do anything. That led me to doing a lot of CNA work, which also meant a lot more time could be spent with the residents. I fed people, got them up to use the restroom, and changed a lot of briefs (A LOT).
Despite doing the 'dirty work', I loved it because I was able to interact more with the residents. This was also extremely saddening. A partner and I were changing a ladies brief and she was completely unable to talk or move herself and was just wanting to hold my hand. I crouched down next to her bed and held her hand and she instantly made eye contact and wouldn't look away. It was one of those moments where I felt like I could see into her soul and I felt so much fear and confusion coming from her. There wasn't much I could do in that situation except assure her that we were just cleaning her up and we'd be done soon, but of course didn't feel like that was enough. It's such a hard thing to look at someone who is scared or hurting and know there is nothing you can do to get rid of it.
Recently I was assisting with a resident who had been in WWII, and in the middle of our conversation about something unrelated, he casually mentioned that he had killed 87 people, and said, "I bet you didn't think this morning that you would be taking care of a murderer," and my heart just broke in two. I can't imagine what it would be like to be in a war and to kill someone else to save yourself and your countrymen, and all at once I just felt all the sadness, guilt, and pain that this resident has been living with for most of his life. All I said, in a tone of understanding, was, 'You had to do what you had to do," and gave a weak smile. Obviously that probably didn't do anything to help him, but again, there isn't anything I could have said to make him feel better.
The hard thing about treating patient's like this is that I am so sensitive to how people are feeling. I am a cancer sign through and through and a complete people pleaser who loves to help in any way possible, so it's really hard to not be able to help. I totally get it now when nurses say they take their work home or when a nurse gets burned out so quickly - it's hard to get rid of an emotion.
So that is one really important thing I'm learning about nursing, how to deal with my patients emotions as well as my own, and to find a way to separate the two to a certain extent. I know my ability to cope with it will evolve over nursing school and into my career, but I wish there was a quick fix. SO MANY EMOTIONS!