The powerful connection of emotions in healthcare

I remember like it was yesterday. My patient was a young blond female with two beautiful Samoan dogs. Her name was Margaret. I was only two years younger than she was. The diagnosis was poor. She was friendly when I introduced myself. And she proceeded to tell me about her health issues, how she was diagnosed and what treatment she was receiving. Marge as she wanted to be called was the only daughter of Swedish parents. They lived across the country about three thousand miles away. She was separated from her husband and continued to have a good relationship with him. He did visit every day and cared for the dogs when needed.

I immediately felt a connection with Marge. She was such a friendly person, someone who made you feel like you had been friends for a long time. Since I was the visiting nurse, she showed me around her home, told me about her dogs and her hobbies and her family. I knew this would be a challenging patient for me. I liked Marge a lot. Healthcare professionals are people too and we do remember some patients more than others and feel a connection to some more than others. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was so close in age to me.

She was receiving chemotherapy. I needed to draw blood, monitor the side effects and provide comfort measures. She had periods of nausea, lost her hair and began to have ascites. Whatever I could do to alleviate her discomfort was my goal.

Her parents came to take care of her and I felt their fear of losing their only daughter. I wanted to reverse this scenario. I could not. I could only be there and assist with whatever was needed. I wanted to do more.

After several months of visiting Marge at home, I was scheduled to go on vacation. I told her I would only be gone for about ten days and someone else would be checking her in my place. I was concerned as we had developed a wonderful relationship. The first day I arrived back from vacation I checked the hospital admissions and found Marge on the list. She had gone downhill rapidly. I wanted to see her at least one more time. I went to the hospital and found her semi-comatose lying in bed and having severe bouts of heaving from nausea.  Her husband was in a chair next to her bed and I felt his helplessness in not knowing how to make it better. For one last time I would utilize my role as her visiting nurse to enhance her comfort. I proceeded to the nurses’ station to ask about an injection for nausea. I was told there wasn’t an order for it. The only order was for oral medication. I suggested calling the doctor immediately to get an order so Marge would be out of her misery of uncontrollable heaving. The nurse called and got the order and  gave the medication. In an instant Marge was lying quietly and comfortably in her bed. Her husband was grateful and so was I.

That was the last time I saw Marge and as I left and said my goodbyes to Marge and her family, I wondered if she held onto life to say goodbye knowing I would return from my vacation soon.

We learn from each experience and I learned the true meaning of emotional connection early in my nursing career and I am grateful. In school I was told not to get too emotionally close to patients. Well I found this to be a challenging dilemma. I want to make emotional connections with the people I care for. This is important to me and it allows trust into the relationship along with ‘being’ there for the other person. I want to treat others the way I would want to be treated. So as I continued in my nursing career, I continued to have emotional connections and it has been very gratifying. People confide in you when you instill trust and they feel that you are truly there to make it better for them.

There are many other stories of patients whom I remember having an impact on my life as I hope I have had on them. This is a mission in healthcare, to make a memorable impact in a caring way.

Ask yourself and your team:

How can we make it better for patients, their families and significant others?

What else can we do to enhance comfort, communication and wellbeing?

Can we enhance the environment?

It can be the little things that can make all the difference.

Joyce Hyam is a nurse and speaker who teaches positive mindset and communication strategies to promote well-being in healthcare.  She can be reached at Law of Attraction Trainers.

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  • http://www.thehappymd.com/ Dike Drummond MD

    Caring and empathy and allowing yourself to have an emotional connection with your patients has always been at the heart of being a healthcare provider at any level. Doctor, nurse, orderly, every position in our “care continuum” has the ability to supply connection and caring. These emotions of connection have the power to heal and to augment any other treatment we are using.

    The key is to take care of yourself well enough to maintain the capacity to care about others. Rather than give, give, give … creating an imbalance that makes caring more and more difficult … a trap many of us fall into.

    A human connection is especially vital in the situation when there is no effective medical treatment available. Don’t abandon the patient in their greatest hour of need just because it corresponds with the peak of our inability to cure. Give the gift of caring … even in these times when terms like “throughput” dominate most discussions.

    My two cents,

    Dike
    Dike Drummond MD
    http;//www.threehourmidlifecrisis.com

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Joyce for a profoundly important message here. But what really leaped out at me from your story of Margaret was this: “I proceeded to the nurses’ station to ask about an injection for nausea. I was told there wasn’t an order for it….”  

    Where on earth was the doc in charge here? Who was caring for this woman? Didn’t anybody on staff – docs, nurses, cleaning ladies – bother to notice that Margaret was suffering “severe bouts of heaving from nausea”?  Absolutely appalling example of medical negligence. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/molly.ciliberti Molly Ciliberti

    Thank you for caring for your patient the way you would want to be cared for. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joyce-Hyam/735401927 Joyce Hyam

    Thank you for your shared feelings on the power of emotions and how important it is to connect. In healthcare these connections are especially meaningful as it shows the “CARE” in Healthcare.