Yesterday I moaned and complained about having to go to my Community Service Learning class (albeit it’s once a month) because I felt it was completely redundant and useless. No other nursing school starts placement in the community until second year, so why did we have to sit through this? Shouldn’t this just be inherent knowledge? I mean it’s pretty obvious we’re all caring, intuitive, and kind individuals going into a profession that is often taken for granted.
The truth is, no one in nursing school, healthcare aide programs, or even medical school teaches you the skills of compassion or empathy. How can they? I spent the whole class wondering why we were talking about this or the need to embrace diversity in the healthcare setting, seem’s like common sense, no? The answer to that is a big solid no, and I spent a long drive reflecting on some of the things i’ve come across whether on social media, in class, working with older adults, and even in a book i’m reading called ‘A Nurse’s Story’ by Tilda Shalof (I suggest this book to all!!! I have never laughed, cried, felt so overwhelmed by the job, and appreciated nurse’s as much as a should have prior to reading this).
There’s no memorization from a textbook on what to say to a patient who is dying, a script to cover how to hold the hand of a patient going through a violating and painful procedure on their own, or even a manual on how to console a family who just lost their loved one. There’s no instruction book on what to say to a patient who can’t bathe them self or when you’re cleaning them up after they defecated or threw up all over the place because they can’t control their bowel movements. How do you deal with a patient who is going through dementia and becomes aggressive with you or starts shouting or trying to place an IV into the restless, frightened and tired child who was kept up all night from being ill? Putting in the IV is textbook, anyone could do it with skill and practice but there’s no textbook on how to interact or console the young child. I don’t find learning the skills to be hard, I mean all we have to do is practice. Anatomy all I need to do is memorize and review. I find the hardest part of nursing to be learning to interact and converse with a patient. How during my own OSCE sitting with a standardized patient going through the early stages of dementia, all I could think about was “what the heck do I talk to you about, I don’t know anything about you and how to comfort you????”, rather than how do I conduct a Mental Status Exam or collect the patient’s blood pressure, O2 saturation, and TPR (temperature, pulse, and respirations).
On another aspect, I came across a picture on Facebook a few days ago of a scantily clad young woman passed out at a party that had defecated herself, while her fellow partygoers mocked her and uploaded pictures to social media. It was incredibly in-dignifying, sad, and messy seeing the young woman in such a vulnerable state. What was even more sickening were the comments of people judging her and making fun of her, it made me angry to see people be so inconsiderate, soulless and cruel. We’re humans, we all make mistakes and this woman while likely made a poor judgement call should never have had her mistake uploaded for the world to see. One thing that did strike me were the comments of fellow healthcare aide’s and professionals because like them my first reaction would have been to find materials to help clean her up, whether it be finding something to dispose of her “waste”, some wipes to helps clean her up, and a fresh set of clothes, as well as checking in on her vitals to make sure she was okay. Regardless of how “disgusting” it is to see human waste coming out of her body, she’s a young woman who deserves the right to her dignity and protection of her privacy. But again, it wasn’t until today that I really appreciated having a lecture on diversity and empathy because I realize those are things that cannot be taught whether it be in a classroom or textbook.
To be honest, it’s scary working in such close quarters with a patients and learning to interact with them, but it’s also incredibly rewarding at the same time when you finally find that grounding. I’m starting to feel more confident in my abilities and willingness to learn to skills and continue to become an empathetic, kind, and compassionate healthcare professional but I also know it’s going to be a work in progress. It’s not easy though to not judge someone or feel like you don’t owe someone something, after all we are all human at the end of the day. As our society becomes more diverse, it’s going to be interesting learning to interact with patients of all ages, sizes, occupations, creeds, and ethnicities. Regardless of whether I agree or not with someone who does not share the same values as me (ex. “White Supremacy”), they are still entitled to a duty of care and respect even if it means putting aside my own thoughts and feelings.
Looking back at my own “practical experiences”, my first shift working at a Senior Care agency with an older gentleman going through the terrible and irreversible condition of dementia was my first eye opening experience. I was told the individual would be pleasant although a bit stubborn, little did I understand how in an instant dementia could change a person’s demeanour in the blink of an eye. I walked in, introduced myself, and sat down to eat lunch with the man, and the first thing the man did was shout at me telling me how much he hated it being in assisted care and wanted to go back to bed. Trying to convince the man to stay in a calm manner, he began to use his wheelchair to return to his room where much to my dismay went to sleep calling me “mean” because I was trying to encourage him to take a few bits of his pudding to get some food into his body. To some this seems like it’s not a big deal, but to any healthcare provider, it’s hard to stay compassionate or kind in situations like this but we do it because we care regardless of whether or not the individual takes a liking to us.
It’s funny because I remember my first day at Western back in 2011 and being asked who wanted to be a doctor that over 300 out of the 340 kids raised their hands and out of this 200 wanted to work with kids. I realize to obtain my goal i’m going to have to work incredibly hard to compete with some of the best and brightest and I realize even when I get there my work will be incredibly hard, depressing, but also rewarding. Like I said in the beginning of my nursing school journey, I would be interested to see where four years will take me in terms of where my interests lie, and it’s already been one term and i’ve started to find my niche. I thought I would never make it to this point going through the personal struggles and self-doubt I encountered late last year, but 2017 has brought a new found confidence and stride in me and I am ready to face the challenges that sit in front of me. I’m doing all of this for me in the hopes that someday I can make a difference in the life’s of people going through what is often a vulnerable, frightening, and tumultuous period in their life.
I’m not sure i’m cut out to work with an older population. I really struggle to find the ability to connect with patients and find common ground. Along with being a labour and delivery nurse, I always thought for some reason geriatrics would be an area that would interest me, after all that is where most of the patient demographic will sit when I finally enter the world as an RN. But after spending weeks working with young kids whether it be in a community hockey program, helping out with a hockey tournament, or even interacting with the children of fellow friends, I have found a new interest in paediatrics and it makes me so excited at the possibility of getting placements in this area in future years. After years of convincing myself I didn’t like kids, I have a new found interest, curiosity, and passion with working with them. I remember growing up being fascinated at working at SickKids Hospital and entering those doors everyday as a doctor saving lives and eventually telling myself I wasn’t good enough to work in healthcare. But now, I found a renewed passion in it and I must say I can’t wait to see what the future holds, but I hope to work my way to getting into a NICU or PICU and helping the sickest of the sick hopefully be able to go home and grow up to be amazing individuals with all the potential in the world.
But in all honesty i’m incredibly proud to be part of a cohort of people looking to take care of others and for the most part striving to make a difference even though many people often take us for granted. Without these individuals putting aside their judgements and personal problems we would never have a healthcare system like the one we have now and for that I am incredibly proud of the people who put in many hours to take care of us and our loved ones as well as the hours of study and practice to become competent professionals.