One of the things that was instilled in me as a nursing student was to avoid imposing my personal values on someone in my care. Whether it’s religious beliefs, morals, or even opinions about lifestyle, we do best when we assume a neutral position, and meet patients and family where they are. After all, they are the ones in the vulnerable position. In fact, we teach that suspending judgment, and assuming a neutral position, are crucial steps in building empathy.
This has been on my mind a lot lately because of a story I heard from a hospitalized patient. She had been having many sleepless nights, and wanted a sleep aid. The nurse caring for her asked, “What are you thinking about when you lie in bed at night?” The patient said, “Mostly, I am praying;” to which the nurse responded, “The devil is keeping you up. He hears your prayers, and is tormenting you.”
What??!!!!! I was so appalled to hear that a caregiver would say this to a patient. Fortunately, the patient hearing this could let it roll off, and accept it as the nurse’s belief system that had nothing to do with her own. But if this comment had fallen on the ears of a frightened, spiritually ungrounded individual, it could have been harmful.