I’m sure that many nurses have those experiences they never forget – I do too. But for me, one of the most memorable events wasn’t really an event but the words of a patient early on in my career. Her words have stuck with me for 25+ years, long after I have forgotten her name and face.
After finishing college, I excitedly began my new job on an oncology unit. In one of my first weeks on the unit, I cared for a woman that my preceptor, Barb, had been taking care of for a while (we’ll call her Mrs. G). They had developed a very trusting relationship. She was a kind woman who had received doxorubicin in the outpatient clinic. The medication had extravasated (got out of the vein and damaged the surrounding tissue) and she spent several weeks on our unit as the gaping wound on her arm healed. I got to know her well over the next few months.
During our first meeting, Mrs. G. asked me if I was a student. I said no, I am one of your nurses today, working with Barb. She followed this with “I hope that someday you will be as great a nurse as Barb.” My initial reaction was to think – geez is she saying I stink already? I just met her! But over the years I have heard her words in my head often and come to have a real appreciation for them.
The time came when Mrs. G’s arm had healed and it was time to get her next dose of the evil red liquid. She had healed physically, but the emotional scar and fear was all too real. I sat with her and held her hand while the physician gave the drug through her new central line. We talked and tried to distract her from the procedure. She thanked me for being there with her and I thought I hoped I lived up to what Barb would have done.
Mrs. G came back a few times over the next year, but eventually finished treatment and would not return to the inpatient unit. I spent the next 8 years working as a bedside nurse and Mrs. G’s words became a reminder for me of how we gain the trust of our patients and their families who look to us for care and guidance. It reminds me how lucky we are to have the privilege to walk this path with them. To be there in the bad times and the good.
Her words were rooted in the relationship she had with her nurse. That didn’t happen by accident. That happened because Barb understood the importance of a nurse’s role in helping a patient through a very trying experience. She provided kindness, understanding and education that helped Mrs. G finish her treatments and move on to life as a survivor.
Mrs. G’s words came to mind in difficult situations and in those when I thought I did a good job. They pushed me to keep growing and learning from the many “Barbs” I have worked with over the years – and to try to instill that drive in nurses I taught and trained.
So, a big thanks to Mrs. G for her words that I am sure she didn’t think would still be here all these years later! I like to think I lived up to your hopes for me.
Carolyn Vachani is an oncology advanced practice nurse and the Managing Editor at OncoLink. She has worked in many areas of oncology including BMT, clinical research, radiation therapy and staff development. She serves as the project leader in the development and maintenance of the OncoLife Survivorship Care Plan and has a strong interest in oncology survivorship care. She enjoys discussing just about any cancer topic,as well as gardening, cooking and, of course, her sons.