1. Courtney, Kelley M. BSN, RN

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Sometimes, nurses lose sight of how their patients feel about being the patient. Imagine if the way you live your life every day changed due to illness and you could not stop or change it back to the way it was. Your control, independence, autonomy, dignity, and strength are lost. You now feel frustrated, angry, bored, confused, and guilty about the loss of control over your life. Guilt becomes a driving force because you cannot contribute to your household the way you used to; you must rely on friends and family to help when you used to be the one who helped everyone.


Being the patient

Even though my disability was temporary, I experienced many of these same emotions when I had foot surgery and was out of work for 12 weeks. During the first 6 weeks I was on crutches, non-weightbearing on my right foot, and had to rely on my partner to do even simple daily activities. Feelings of frustration and helplessness were overwhelming at times. Not being able to drive or leave the house when I wanted to made me angry. I had to ask for help when I wanted to go for a ride, when I needed something at the store, and when I needed help to carry something as simple as my morning coffee.


While home, resting and allowing my body to heal, I reflected on how this experience was affecting my emotions and reactions. Being on the other side of the stethoscope, even temporarily, deepened my empathy, understanding, and compassion for my patients. These lessons would enhance and broaden my nursing skills and practice.


In their shoes

Stop for one moment and imagine what your life would be like if it were abruptly changed by an accident or illness and you had to rely on others to get through your day-to-day activities. How would you respond? Reflect on the impact this would have on your mind, body, soul, and spirit. Now think about your patients and how helpless and frustrated they may feel.


We may lose sight of the things our patients have to give up because of their illnesses. Whether they have been sick for years or it is all new to them, we have to remember to pause and put ourselves in their shoes so we can better understand where they are coming from when they seem angry, distant, depressed, or frustrated by little things. Look at the complete picture and help patients understand that they can still control some things, especially their thoughts and reactions.


Perhaps a patient is lonely and just needs someone to talk to; maybe another is angry about being sick and needs guidance to sort through these new feelings. We can help our patients realize that they have the power within themselves to make changes and adjust their life goals.


Empowering patients

This is why we became nurses, right? Nurses have a unique opportunity to offer comfort and support to people in crisis. Help your patients heal by encouraging them to look at illness as a new obstacle in life to tackle, a new door opening the way to what lies ahead. We can help open their eyes to their own self-worth and resilience, giving them the strength to deal with whatever life brings their way.