Teaching patients’ families how they can help.
The afternoon brings more therapy sessions. It also brings visits from family and friends. Sometimes these visits are filled with joy—family and friends celebrate progress made, even the baby steps. Sometimes these visits are filled with sorrow—a wife longing for the return of the person she married, parents trying to find a way to cope, children struggling to understand why their dad can’t talk to them or lift them up and fly them across the sky like he used to.
I teach my patients’ families how they can help. I ask the children to draw pictures to hang on the walls. I ask spouses to practice administering medications and help steady their loved one as they walk across the room. I ask friends to tell stories, sing songs, and bring in pictures. I learn about the person they once knew and remind them all that the person they once knew is still there. I try to give them hope. As the nurses did for my family, I do for my patients’ families.
We end the day with dinner. My patients are exhausted from the day—not just the physical toll of rehabilitation, but the emotional toll of rediscovery, grief, and learning how to exist in ways they didn’t know they could. They eat their dinner and retreat back to their rooms. We make up the bed and prepare them for a good night’s sleep.
Learning who patients are and what makes them tick.
The oncoming shift clocks in and I give report. I share the things that I’ve learned about my patients. Not just how they take their medications or how many people are needed for a safe transfer. I share how one patient was a musician and really enjoys listening to music during his resting times, how another patient has three kids who decorated his room with their art, how another patient is struggling to cope with losing the function in one arm and may need more emotional support. In rehabilitation, we learn things about our patients—we learn who our patients are and what makes them tick.
I clock out, head to my car, and reflect on my day. My shift has ended, but my patients’ rehabilitation hasn’t. I realize what a privilege it is to be present for my patients and to share in their trials and triumphs. So I go home, eat some dinner, and go to sleep so I can do it again the next day.
For me, nursing has been a calling to do unto others as they have done for me.
Abbey Jo Klein, BSN, RN, is a PhD candidate at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Nursing. She has worked as a staff nurse at an acute care rehabilitation hospital, primarily caring for individuals recovering from a brain injury.
This story was originally submitted to the UNMC College of Nursing Creative Writing Project, which is dedicated to fostering creative writing in nursing education and professional development. It is one of six winners of the project’s annual creative writing award, and has been slightly edited for publication on this blog.