1. Davis, Charlotte BSN, RN, CCRN
  2. Wells, Rosemary RN, GEC

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We've been nurses for more than 20 years, and with that comes a bit of wisdom. But in a recent experience with one special patient, the roles of student and teacher were reversed.


Mrs. W, 78, came into our facility for pulmonary and physical rehabilitation after recovering from pneumonia. She also had a history of a stroke with right-sided hemiparesis and expressive aphasia.


Walking and talking

As we assisted her out of bed for her afternoon walk, Mrs. W began reminiscing about her stay at another hospital.


"My family used to visit me almost every day," she said. "They'd even bring the grandchildren from time to time. Now that they've moved out of state, they can only visit me on holidays.


"Back when I was a homemaker, I loved to cook and eat with my family and friends. Now, I can't seem to feed myself properly. Last time I was in the hospital, the person feeding me must've been on a timer, because she kept feeding me faster and faster. I wondered who she was, because she never introduced herself. If she'd slowed down, maybe I would've known what I was eating or at least what it tasted like.


"I remember a pitcher of ice water was brought into my room early one day. I wondered if anyone would offer me a cold drink before all the ice melted.


"My room was at the end of a long hallway. Most of the time, I felt isolated and alone. There was no one who dropped by to say hello, or to open up my blinds. I didn't know what time, day, or even year it was. I couldn't see the clock, because someone kept forgetting to put my glasses on. Oh, I remember just wishing I could see outside.


"I got lots of cards in the mail. But no one would open them and read them to me. I wanted to tell them all that I was a mother, grandmother, aunt, friend, and church member. But when my mouth opened, no words would come out."


Roles reversed

In that moment, she'd taught us an important lesson. Unrushed small acts of human empathy can be conveyed in a single moment. We asked Mrs. W for permission to share her story with the nursing facility from where she was recently transferred. She agreed.


The nursing staff there began implementing a plan for patients suffering with communication dysfunction.1-3 The action plan included a lower nurse-patient ratio and enhanced visual communication boards that allow patients to point at words and pictures conveying their needs. The staff reported their patient satisfaction scores improved.


Listening to patients

As nurses, we often become task oriented. We can forget that the patient in room 221 is someone's loved one. These patients have a voice even when they can't speak. Our patients' voices need to be heard so we can provide truly holistic nursing care.




1. Issel LM. Learning from storytelling. Health Care Manage Rev. 2012;37(2):109. [Context Link]


2. Stein DL, Billings DM, Kowalski K. Storytelling: an adjunct to learning. J Contin Ed Nurs. 2009;44(7):296-297.


3. Gallagher P, Carey K. Connecting with the well-elderly through reminiscence: analysis of lived experience. Educat Gerontol. 2012;38(8):576-582. [Context Link]