ONE MORNING, a young woman I'll call Jessica stopped by my office at the hospital. She was the administrative assistant to our Director of Nursing, our department's "go-to" person, and a very valuable part of our nursing team.
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Jessica had just been accepted into a full-time nursing program and was about to begin her first nursing course, Fundamentals of Nursing. She bubbled with nervous excitement as she spoke of the awesome challenges that lay ahead of her. I remembered how I felt when I was in her position: working a 40-hour workweek while committing to a nursing program was intimidating but exciting, too.
I told Jessica what a wonderful journey she was on, and then shared this story about an experience from my "Fundamentals of Nursing" days.
On my second week of clinical I was assigned to a local long-term-care facility for my first day of hands-on training. Wearing a brand-new uniform, I was full of confidence and couldn't wait to begin. This particular morning I was assigned to 87-year-old Mrs. B, who had Alzheimer disease. She was nonambulatory and required total care. No problem, I thought, I can handle this. After all, I'd done great in the classroom bed-bath training.
As I approached Mrs. B's room, a nursing assistant passed by and said, "You have Mrs. B today? Good luck." Suddenly I didn't feel so good. My heart sunk down to the pit of my stomach and every nerve ending I had tingled as I took a deep breath and entered her room.
I said good morning to Mrs. B, introduced myself, and told her I was a nursing student who'd be assisting her today. I didn't receive a reply, so I assumed she hadn't heard me. I repeated myself, only louder-no reply. I tried again, even louder; still no reply. The sweat beaded up on my brow as I began to gather my supplies.
I began Mrs. B's bath as I was trained, starting at the top and working my way down. "It's a lovely day-maybe we could sit outside after lunch, would you like that?" I asked. No reply. "I've just started my nursing career and hope it'll all be worth it one day." No reply. "Is the temperature of this water okay?" Nothing.
Undaunted, I continued talking until suddenly Mrs. B began to sing-loudly. "Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me, anyone else but me, oh anyone else but me!!" She sang the same line over and over. Not sure what to do, I attempted to talk louder than the now-constant rendition of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree." Finding this impossible, I gave up and began singing along with her.
It didn't take long before my nursing instructor poked her head inside the room. "Everything okay in here?" she asked with a faint smile. "Fine, doing just great," I said as I wiped the sweat from my forehead with the sleeve of my now-saturated new uniform. I went back to singing along with Mrs. B as I finished her bath.
We continued singing as I gave her a back rub. Between verses I slipped in a sentence here and there, telling Mrs. B how wonderful I thought back rubs were and hoped this one made her feel better.
As I was cleaning up I casually said, "Do you feel better? I just love a good back rub." I turned to exit the room and heard a small voice say, "Yes, that was a very nice back rub. Thank you very much."
I turned in shock and was about to respond when she launched into "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" with renewed vigor.
After I relayed this story to Jessica, I told her that Fundamentals of Nursing is where she'll learn, just like I did, one of the best and most important lessons in nursing. Whenever you walk into a patient's room, you can make a difference-even if all you can offer is something as simple as giving a back rub or singing a song.