By Joi Canton, MSN, RN
Before becoming a nurse, I completed six years in the military and a little more than five years as a police officer. I thought I did it all. That is, until I became an RN in 2000. I have to say, nursing has been the one career that made me who I am and influenced how I live.
I began my nursing career as an ED nurse in a very busy hospital in Miami. I thought being from New York gave me an edge or some swagger, but I was wrong. I was introduced to a world of poverty, uncontrolled diseases like HIV and true despair. I found it easier to shut out the deep stuff and focus on the surface. The surface being the illness, alcoholism, noncompliance and other issues by which I judged patients. We all do it. It is our defense mechanism. It is what helps us not to cry and gives us an edge. I kept being a surface nurse until I met my first storyteller.
Diagnosed with cancer, he dodged the bullet several times, but this time there were no more chances. Death was coming soon. He was a father, grandfather, husband, ex-teacher — and he was dying. I asked him a question that, to many, seemed intrusive. “Are you afraid?” This was the beginning of my journey as a nurse who went to the heart of the people she cared for. I looked for the story. I let the stories lead my care plan. I allowed the stories to give me courage and strength. I took the stories and stowed them in my heart. Stories became, and continue to be, my guide to quality patient-centered care. Everybody has one and it is up to you to discover it.
Alcoholics don’t want to be alcoholics. I met one who began drinking after he was involved in a motor vehicle accident that killed the other driver. He could not deal with the picture of that person’s mangled body in his head, so the brown liquor helped it go away for just a little while.
Most suicidal patients aren’t looking for attention. I met one who lost everything in the market crash, including his wife. He invested heavily in the market because he wanted them to retire early and spend every moment together. He considered death as the only way to stop the pain and the loneliness.
Not all elderly nursing home patients are there because they want to be. I met one who wished she had children so she could have someone to visit her, talk to her and hold her hand. She never married, but she was in love once. He fought in a war and never returned. No one ever made her feel like he did.
Everybody has a story. You just have to listen for it. It does not always come out easily; it sometimes has to be coaxed out. It may come out as you hold a hand, place a warm blanket, give a smile or just be in a patient’s space. Everybody has a story; you just have to be that person the storyteller wants to trust with it.
Joi Canton, MSN, RN, is a nurse manager in telemetry at Lake Worth (Fla.) Medical Center.
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