By Rachelle Psaris, BS, RN
In nursing school, we were taught our primary focus at the bedside was the patient, and nothing from our private lives, including our own health concerns, should get in the way of the care we deliver. As a result, we will have succeeded in being the true professionals that we set out to be.
In 2013, my physician informed me that because my white blood cell count was below the norm, I should see a hematologist. I made the appointment and Googled “causes for low WBC counts.”
Some of the causes, such as leukemia, were alarming. Others, such as vitamin deficiency, were not. I prayed for vitamin deficiency. Then I turned my mind off to the whole thing — or thought I did.
I came to work one day and began admitting 83-year-old Oscar for implantation of an intravenous access device. His diagnosis was leukemia. I immediately checked his WBC. It was normal — much higher than mine. I began to feel uneasy.
Oscar’s daughter-in-law Susan came with him and provided support and made him laugh now and then. She was attentive and eager to see to his comfort, and she helped him answer questions he had difficulty with because of memory issues. She clearly cared about Oscar and was not just a visitor sitting in the chair next to him. Susan was wonderful.
As I proceeded with the admission, I could feel the tension building. Here sat this wonderful man, who had such an awful diagnosis, and here I was thinking I might end up with that diagnosis or something equally as awful.
Healthcare workers need to leave it at the door and not allow personal issues to interfere with work. Our ability to be compassionate and thorough in our assessments can be compromised if our thoughts are muddled by our own issues. So many of us have known situations in which a healthcare professional was not there emotionally and psychologically for his or her patient; there clearly was something missing, whether in the dialogue or actual physical care. Some of us may have even experienced this as a patient ourselves.
With Oscar, however, the pressure was mounting, and although I treated him with compassion, I felt I was leaving something out of the mix. But what?
Oscar returned from the OR, and I was there to care for him before his discharge. I discontinued his IV, discussed his discharge instructions with his daughter-in-law present and wished him well. But, again, something was missing. Finally, it clicked. I admired Susan so much, but because I was so wound up with my own worries, I did not tell her how much I admired her devotion to her father-in-law. Was that a requirement for good nursing care? No, but it certainly is part of the equation.
It’s a delicate balance, leaving one’s own problems at the door and being there for the patient 100%, but there is no other option.
Rachelle Psaris, BS, RN, retired after 42 years as a staff nurse in perioperative nursing at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital, Patchogue, N.Y.
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