Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where Have All the Nurses Gone?

I'm embarrassed. Very, very embarrassed. Yesterday, I attended the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition in Harrisburg, PA.. I'd previously registered for two sessions. One was called "Customizing Breast Cancer Treatment - Why We No Longer Treat All Breast Cancers Patients the Same Way," and the last one of the day was entitled, "Journaling to Help Healing." Both topics interested me, and they both proved to be very enlightening.

I had arrived at the journaling class a few minutes before it started and noticed an elderly woman, the only person in the room at the time, sitting in a chair located in the front row. I chose the seat directly behind her, said "hello" as I sat down, and we both started to chat. After only a minute or two into our conversation, she apologized and stated that she felt very ill. She immediately reached under her desk and pulled out a small glass dish. Then she began to vomit into it.

I instinctively stood up and walked the few short steps toward her, and then I gently placed my arm on her back as she heaved in wracking, guttural noises. When she'd finished, I asked her if she thought she'd contracted a virus or something. "No, it's the chemo," she responded. "I'm just so sorry ... and so embarrassed," she commented while wiping her face with a tissue.

I replied, as anyone who's been through the storm of chemotherapy would, "Oh my, PLEASE, don't apologize. We've all had this experience. Everything will be okay. Would you like me to find a place for you to lie down?" I asked.

She shook her head and replied that her husband was the speaker of this particular class, and that she really wanted to stay so that she could hear him teach. She drank a few sips of soda and said that she was feeling a bit better.

Her next words saddened me. "You know, I became sick in the bathroom earlier in the day today, and there were about four nurses who came in shortly after I did. They heard me getting sick, and not one of them asked if they could help me. Not one. And they're professionals! They just scurried out of the bathroom as fast as they could."

She began to say more along those lines, when I spoke up gently and said, "I have to tell you something: I'm a nurse, too, and..." I paused because I really didn't know just what to say at this point. I began again, "I hope you know that we're not ALL like that. I'm so sorry that happened to you." Just then her husband entered the room and proceeded to remove the glass dish from her shaking hands and carried it away.

She smiled and seemed a bit more relaxed by this point. The class began, and I'd glanced over to her several times during the discussion. Each time I looked her way, she seemed to be faring much better. As the class ended and I hugged her goodbye, she stated to me through shining eyes that her faith in the nursing profession was restored. I know that I'll never see her again, but I hope that I made her day a bit more bearable.

Throughout my cancer journey, I had plenty of opportunities to interact with nurses. Most of them treated me with dignity. Providing comfort to me seemed to be their top priority. But every once in awhile, I'd come across a nurse, or a receptionist, or a physician who just seemed to be going through the motions while caring for me, not really caring about me. There were, unfortunately, some professionals, who didn't even notice when I was scared, or hurting, or just plain tired of the whole cancer ordeal.

And you know what? Those were the times when all I really wanted was for someone to sit next to me, put their hand on my shoulder, and tell me that everything was going to be okay. It sounds like such a simple task, but I have to admit that today I am feeling embarrassed to even call myself a nurse. To all of you who've been treated poorly by a nurse in the past, please know how sorry - and disgusted - I feel.

I'm by no means perfect. But I have to ask: where have we all gone?

1 comment:

Debby said...

Every profession has it'\s bad eggs. Even nursing.