This summer I took a CNA class in preparation for nursing school. Here’s what I learned.
Our patients are not just diagnosis. They are people. They have a history. Their feelings and experience—both past and present—matter deeply. I can imagine that it becomes easier to see them as tasks to perform instead of people to care for. But we can’t do that and still take care of the WHOLE person. And as nurses we are there to care for their whole person.
This experience has identified some of my fears and assumptions about getting old and being alone. These feelings are raw and unresolved and every day when I walk out of clinicals they are there.
But I value my time at the clinic because when I walk in my patient’s door I’m no longer focused on MY life. I’m focused on theirs. How can I make their day better? How can I prevent this conditioning from worsening and removing even more of their independence? What can I do to encourage them to be independent? Regardless of their diagnosis, I have the opportunity to do this with each of them. I love, that as a caregiver, I have the choice to be completely present with my patient regardless of what else is going on. For those moments they can and should be the only thing I focus on. And I can only pray that if I end up in their position that my caregivers will do the same.
When I first met one of my patients and they said they didn’t want me to be their nurse I was afraid to care for them. But I enjoyed it. We laughed a lot, even when doing things that demonstrate just how dependent they are on others. And as I laugh with them, a little part of me thinks, maybe it’s possible to be completely dependent and still joyful. Maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Maybe I could survive, and even thrive, if I wasn’t so independent.
One day I answered this sequence of questions dozens of times: “What’s your name?” “Are you married?” “How old are you?” “30 and not married! Why?” And every time I answered I became less sensitive to the fact that I am 30 and single. It allowed me to embrace the choices I’ve made.
I feel incredibly sad to leave my first patients. When I leave their room and think back on what it must be like in their skin, sometimes it breaks my heart. But my heart isn’t broken when I’m with them. They are not just the sad diagnosis and the dependent individuals. They joke and laugh with me. They yell and express anger at me or others. They are deeply human. The last few years have been a journey to embracing my humanness, And the truth is, as a human I won’t be able to fix their physical or mental problems. But that isn’t my job. My job is to be present and to do what I can to alleviate a little bit of their suffering.