As I write this, my mother is in the hospital battling an infection resulting from a fracture that won’t heal. I have spent hours with her at the hospital and, in the process, talked in detail with her orthopedic surgeon and hospitalist. They raised our confidences that no stone was being left unturned in her diagnostic and treatment plan. They patiently answered every question and graciously accepted my assistance (as a nurse, I can’t stop myself from adding my 2 cents). This type of interaction was reassuring to my scientific mind and helped ease my anxiety, but this alone wasn’t enough to make me feel comfortable leaving for the night. It was the nursing care that gave me the reassurance she was in expert hands.
Not only is her room across from the nurses’ station, but every request we made was responded to efficiently and with a positive, helpful attitude. After having been with Mom for hours, both my husband and I really needed sleep, but I was nervous about leaving, seeing that her temperature was elevated, and all signs pointed to sepsis.
When Joan (the RN) came in, she told us the plan for the night. She explained to my mother that they would be coming in to hang the next IV antibiotic and would wake her up to take vital signs but that she would do her best to make the interruptions brief in the interest of a good night’s sleep. Joan was everything we teach in our service excellence classes at the Baird Group. She managed expectations, explained medications and treatment plans, engaged the patient, and included the family with a positive, professional demeanor. Joan made it evident that she was experienced, competent, and compassionate.
After seeing Joan in action, my husband turned to me and said, “If she was taking care of me, I’d feel really confident that I was in good hands.” Hearing that and seeing the evidence for myself, I started to feel comfortable with the thought of leaving for the night. I asked Joan if she would call me if Mom’s condition worsened. She agreed. So seeing that my mom was finally sleeping comfortably, my husband and I prepared to leave. As we stepped out of the room, Joan said the words I so desperately needed to hear: “We’ll take good care of her.” That short sentence tells a loved one that it’s OK to leave, that they have things under control, and—most of all—that they care.
While the physicians did a good job of satisfying my scientific mind, it was the nurses who gave me the most reassurance by satisfying the needs of both my head and my heart. They raised my confidence that appropriate and timely medical care was underway, but they also showed compassion for my mother and an understanding of my anxiety. When a nurse tells a family that they will “take good care,” they are giving an invaluable gift. It’s a gift of reassurance. It’s permission to leave for the night. And finally, in my case, it’s a promise to be there when I can’t.