As a nurse, I deal with a lot of sick people. In fact, I don’t deal with people unless they’re sick or unless they have something going on with their body that they can’t control on their own. As a person though, I’m fairly healthy. I don’t tend to get sick very often, and when I do, it’s not bad enough that I feel the need to go to the doctor.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about that, not by a long shot, but sometimes I wonder if it makes me less empathetic with my patients. I understand nausea, and I’ve dealt with it on a personal level, but other things – pain, broken bones, etc – I haven’t experienced, so I can’t exactly know what my patient’s feeling.
That’s not to say I don’t try. I know that pain is a very subjective thing. We have no right to tell someone when they are or are not having pain. Someone who never deals with pain might have a lower threshold than someone who has chronic pain. I understand that, and I try to put it into practice.
Last year, I had my first chance to be a patient in a long time. I had a UTI, and after several days not being able to pee, I finally went to the doctor. He gave me antibiotics, and I figured that was it.
Several days later, I ended up with a rash. It was one unlike I’ve ever experienced, and it covered every inch of my body. Behind my ears, between my fingers, on the bottom of my feet… it was excruciating. I tried ice packs and hydrocortisone cream, but nothing worked. I ended up going to the doctor again, and he gave me a steroid shot, and as much as I hoped it would work, it didn’t.
I still had to go to work. I wasn’t contagious, and I couldn’t find a good reason to call off. If I was going to be miserable and itchy at home, I might as well be miserable and itchy at work, right?
The only thing that helped was time. After a few days, the rash started to disappear, and the itching subsided. It was excruciating, and it was eye-opening to me as a nurse. We give meds and treatments, but they won’t always work. I understand the impatience when you just want it to stop hurting, or burning or itching, and nothing seems to work.
Unfortunately, time is the only key in some instances, and as well intentioned as we are as healthcare workers, sometimes, all we can do is empathize.