By Cynthia Stock, MSN, RN, CCRN, CVICU
I didn’t become a nurse ever expecting to feel like a rock star. But one day it happened. John, a 40-something-year-old man, arrived in our unit after coronary artery bypass surgery. On the second day after surgery, his wife approached me. She cried and told me the man in the bed was not the one she brought to the hospital. She had never seen her husband so petulant, angry and vulnerable. I reassured her that patients often act out the most with the people they trust. I also suggested that perhaps her husband might be struggling with the thought of someone opening his chest and handling his heart, which some people believed housed the soul.
Back then heart surgery patients stayed in ICU for several days. The woman’s husband continued to waver between active participation in care and regression into a state of passive dependence, and I continued to provide reassurance and support to him and his wife.
The day he transferred to the telemetry unit, I discussed the well-documented depression some patients experience after heart surgery. I told his wife to expect mood swings triggered by the unexpected. Period. End of report. Or so I thought.
Months later I was grocery shopping, bent over a carton of eggs looking for cracks. A voice broke my concentration. “Excuse me,” she said. “I doubt if you remember me.”
I looked around and faced a woman slightly older than I, her cart full and her face aglow with a genuine smile. My face gave me away, a blank stare caused by lack of recognition. “It’s OK,” she said. “You must meet a lot of people doing what you do.”
“Do you know me?” I asked.
“I have wanted to say ‘thank you’ for so long,” she said. “You cared for my husband after his heart surgery. If it hadn’t been for you and what you taught me, I could never have coped.”
Then she explained. “After we got home, John lost a 39-cent Bic razor,” she said. “He sat down and sobbed over a cheap, plastic, replaceable razor. But I remembered what you said about little things becoming important. You reassured us both that things would fall into place and be all right.”
She described how she comforted John, held him, just let him cry. “All the time I thought about what you said and how right you had been.”
I am not skilled at accepting praise. My cheeks burned. I could have said, “I was just doing my job,” but that would have been a lie. Forty-two years later I still awaken in the middle of the night and wonder if I could have done something more for my patient.
I still invest myself in those for whom I care. Nursing has never been just a job; it defines the person I am — the person I want to be.
I remember that day and the way it made me feel. Recognized. Affirmed. Thanked. And although it happened in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, in that moment, I was a rock star.
I have been a bedside nurse for 42 years. Sometimes it seemed my education lagged behind my experience, and other times, just the opposite. But what I know for sure is this: Always be open to learning. A unique, precious individual accompanies every disease, surgery or trauma. Sometimes a little thing makes a big difference. Enjoy the successes. Savor the rock star moments.
With all the changes in healthcare, what has sustained my enthusiasm and love for the profession are moments like that one.
Cynthia Stock, MSN, RN, CCRN, CVICU, is a critical care nurse at Medical City Hospital, Dallas.
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