Academic journal article Nursing Education Perspectives

HEARING THE STORIES Behind Our Patients' Words: An Excerpt

Academic journal article Nursing Education Perspectives

HEARING THE STORIES Behind Our Patients' Words: An Excerpt

Article excerpt

WHEN, FOR THE FIRST TIME, we stand in our student uniforms at the bedside of a suffering patient, what we feel is often anxiety and a formless but intense emotion based not only on the patient's situation but also on our own. Maybe we recall the sorrow we'd felt when someone close to us died, or we identify with what it was like when we were ill or alone. As students, we vow we will never forget the small details, images that distress and move us yet also serve to make a patient's suffering tangible: an old woman's blue nightgown, the worn slipper peeking out from under a bed, a child's book closed on the nightstand. We promise ourselves we will never become coolly clinical or distanced, as it seems some of our teachers are. We believe that, as nurses, we will always be above pettiness, anger, fatigue, and alienation.

WHEN I BECAME A STUDENT NURSE, I felt that way. Then, slowly, something happened. I learned a new language made up of concrete clinical terms about illness and cure, a language that was musical but opaque, one that identified me as part of an elite group and so separated me from my patients. Memorizing facts and figures that often had little relationship to any specific patient, I lost sight of the individual: that woman in the blue nightgown and that particular child whose book was forgotten on the bedside stand. Instead I became fascinated with diseases. I looked forward to each unusual case, to each odd clinical finding that the attending doctors labeled "fascinomas." Like the residents around me, I liked the challenge of taking care of complex, critically ill patients. …

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