At the age of 18, I spent six weeks flat on my back in the hospital. For the first few weeks I was in and out of a coma. It was my first introduction to nursing, and I have never forgotten what being a patient taught me.
1. Always assume your patient in a coma can hear you
I wasn’t completely awake, but I could hear the nurses talk as they bathed me. They said things about other patients that I didn’t want to hear. But it was what they said about me that was hurtful. I was taking classes and working at college for the summer. Every spare moment I lay in the sun. So in addition to the best tan I ever had, I was thin with long hair bleached blond by the sun.
“Look at that tan.” one of the nurses said. “She’s just a rich snob.”
They didn’t know me or my family. My mom was a school teacher, and my dad owned a hardware store. We were a normal middle class family and far from rich. My parents saved for years to send me to college. Their spiteful comments caused me to weep when they left and made me more depressed than I already was.
2. Prevent what you can
I developed an ulcer on the heel of my immobile foot. I now know this was preventable by using heel booties or elevating my foot on a pillow. Because of the frequent narcotic analgesics, I developed constipation. I spent hours on the bedpan trying to move my bowels. This could have been avoided by adding a stool softener or laxative to my medication regimen.
3. Have empathy
Before my car accident I was having the time of my life in college. I was about to enter my sophomore year. I was engaged to be married. The second the drunk driver hit the car I was riding in, my life fell apart. I felt sad. I felt mad. I experienced excruciating pain. My fiancée never visited or called. I had a 10 inch scar on my upper left leg from the surgery. I didn’t know if I would ever walk again.
When I tried to talk with one of the nurses about how I felt, she said, “Be glad you didn’t die.”
Now I felt guilty that someone else died in the crash, not me. I did not bring the subject up again. Because of this nurse’s harsh comment, my emotional recovery took longer than it had to.
Whenever I feel myself getting hardened as a nurse, I close my eyes and imagine I’m back in that hospital bed. I have never forgotten what it was like to be a patient. I felt helpless, dependent and without control. I was scared. Being injured and in excruciating pain in the hospital was a new experience for me. I was trying to deal with some of the worst moments of my life. This experience has helped me become a better nurse. I hope by knowing my story you can gain valuable perspective into what it is like to be a patient.