A new program at Stony Brook (N.Y.) University Hospital has brought not only patients closer to their significant others but nurses closer to each other.
As part of the date night program, a long-term patient chooses a meal served on fancy dinnerware to enjoy interruption-free with a spouse, family member or friend.
The idea came to Maggie Knight, RN, when she was caring for a patient on the hospital’s 16-bed bone marrow transplant oncology unit, where patients can spend months confined to their rooms. One patient, an “all-around nice guy” in his 40s, was feeling down, and Knight thought a nice dinner would boost his spirits.
Knight and hospital chaplain Elizabeth Meehan decided to order the patient’s favorite pizza from a local restaurant, cover the hospital’s food cart with a tablecloth, use china and silverware and have the patient’s wife dress up for the occasion. “These people are not a diagnosis to us,” Meehan said. “They’re real people with stories and lives.”
About a week after getting the idea, they surprised the patient with the meal.
“I was just happy to give them a little normalcy,” Knight said.
Not just for spouses
The nurses also have provided two date nights for patients who aren’t married. Instead of being surprises, these events are planned with the patients’ input. One man invited two friends to an event dubbed “buds on BMT” (bone marrow transplant) that included cheeseburgers and fries while another patient invited her sister to an “elegant eating experience” of shrimp, vegetables and cheesecake.
The date nights bring back a dose of reality to the patients, said Taylor Adamo, BSN, RN, interim nurse manager at Stony Brook.
“They were just so touched, and they felt so special,” Meehan said. “It lifts their hearts and their spirits.”
The variety date night brings to the patient’s day breaks some of the monotony of being in the same room for a month.
The nurses take a photo of the couple during their date night and frame it to enable the patient to relive the positive memory. The family of the first date night patient, who passed away, had the framed photo present at his wake, Meehan said.
At first, nurses would order the patient’s chosen dinner from an outside restaurant. But patients on the floor who were neutropenic could not have food prepared outside the hospital, and chemotherapy would affect when the date nights could occur as the patient couldn’t have too much to eat before treatment or needed time after to recover.
Recently, after hearing about the date nights, the hospital’s dietary department met with nurses and offered to make any meals the patients wanted, Adamo said.
That made planning easier, Meehan said. For example, one patient was delayed because a port was being taken out, but the dietary department waited to make the order until the patient was ready.
Bringing nurses closer
When the nurses are planning a date night, everyone on the floor knows about it, Adamo said. They talk in their huddles and work on getting the spouse or significant other alone to find out the patient’s favorite meal.
“It lightens everyone’s mood and brings everyone together,” Adamo said. “It’s a highlight of everyone’s day.”
In the future, nurses may bring in movies or have a medical student who plays guitar perform for some of the dates to add more happy moments at the hospital, Knight said.
“We have a lot of depressing moments on our floor, and it can take a toll on our emotions,” she said, adding that arranging dates is worthwhile “when you have little moments when a person is getting a little better or a patient smiles.”
Karen Long is a freelance writer.
How to help
Donations for the date night program can be made by sending a check payable to The Stony Brook Foundation along with a letter of support. Donations can be mailed to Christine Linneman, staff assistant to Scott Reid, Stony Brook University Hospital, HSC L3, Room 065, 101 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook, N.Y., 11794-8036.