Maybe it happened because I was tired after working a string of long, busy shifts.
Maybe Mercury, the communication planet, went retrograde last week.
Last week I wasn’t as good of a communicator as I would like to be.
I am one of those nurses who learned something in the Therapeutic Communication module of nursing school. Before you judge me as the nerd I kinda am, I do not go around repeating, “What I hear you saying is…” Such phrases are not what someone wants regurgitated back at them. The phrase is a tool, not a mantra. Instead, I learned to carefully listen to the words a patient uses and watch for any mismatch of those words in their body language. Then I speak to the body language. As a visual artist I first think in images, then put the ideas represented by the images into words, like a songwriter fitting lyrics to a melody. For me, the pictures come first, then the words.
Here’s what happened:
A colleague introduced me to a nursing student whose next clinical rotation is pediatrics. She told her I was once a pediatric intensive care nurse, and the student asked if I had any pearls of wisdom to share. While I am not so vain to believe my words possess a cure for the deep wounds of a human soul, I am vain enough to believe I occasionally have something insightful to say. So I offered this advice:
- Always consider the parent-child unit as your patient
- Even if a parent doesn’t know pathophysiology, they know their child better than you do.
- The smaller the patient, the more important it is that you get it right the first time.
- If you are unsure of what you are doing, find a nurse who does know. Stick close to your preceptor.
I finished and saw the glazed look on the student’s face. Her shoulders already turned away from me. She didn’t really want my advice; she was only being polite. David tells me when he sees this look in the eyes of the pharmacy students he precepts, he adds, “Let me tell you one more thing you already know.” She was not my student, however, so I shrugged it off.
A few days later, I was starting an IV in a patient. I had started IV’s in this patient before, and this particular day, while I did so, she told me about a bad experience she had as a child when a nurse started her IV. As before, her body language was the picture of calm while she talked. I inserted the IV easily. As soon as the patient saw the blood flash, confirming the IV was in the vein, she passed out, just like that. I yelled for help, but by the time my coworkers arrived, she was already coming to. With the innocent expression of a child she looked up into my face, and said, “Oh, it’s you.”
I disappointed myself. Her words had not matched her body language, and I missed it. I didn’t know how much courage it took for her to come in for treatment. I gave her some juice, and a little time to herself. When it was clear that her inner child had safely returned to her soul’s play room, I told her I was sorry. She apologized for not telling me how she really felt. She didn’t want to be a difficult patient. We talked about her fear of needles, and came up with a plan. She decided to finish her IV treatment, and I learned one more thing I already knew.