During the very first semester of nursing school, we were drilled up one side and down the other with culture. Cultures, religions, beliefs, practices…all of the things that our patients might have that make them different from *us* (in the general sense). We learned all the different rituals we might come across in medicine, all the varying forms of “bad juju” and how to get rid of them, and not only that – but we were taught just how important it was to put our own bias and judgement aside in order to better serve our patients.
So that was four semesters ago.
I have worked in three different hospitals. I have taken care of all kinds of people… Africans, Mexicans, Koreans. I have taken care of all different social classes….the homeless. The rich. Through all of these rotations, I have never felt “far away” culturally from any of my patients. They were all embracers of Western Medicine. Even with language barriers, we had a common theme that connected us – medicine – and the will to get better.
Recently, I had my first run in with a patient that went against everything *I* believe… not only as a person of faith, but as a (student) nurse. My patient refused life saving treatment… and I’m not talking something that would affect their quality of life (like chemotherapy), or something that may or may not have been beneficial. They refused actual life saving treatment because it was against their religious beliefs.
So here I am, a student nurse… and I am taking care of a patient who is actively DYING in front of me.
You never really know how you are going to feel about something like this until you are actively put in this situation. I had thought about it before, and we had ALL talked about it before….but here I was face to face with it. Reading the chart, I had to literally have an inner discourse with myself… Because I knew I would be dealing with family…. and tough questions. How could I take care of this patient without letting my own beliefs cloud my care? I started having flashbacks to my fundamental instructors… 🙂
I think it was my inner dialogue that saved me…. because I did what I was put in that hospital to do. Which was take care of my patient. So instead of treating this woman’s disease… I remembered what nurses are here to do. What our job description truly is. We aren’t doctors… who I see as the “mechanics”. They are the ones solving the problems. They fix what is broken. Nurses take care of our patients. Nurses treat the whole patient, not the disease. And that is what I did that day… I swallowed my own opinions and I simply took care of my patient. I made her comfortable. I held her hand when the pain was unbearable. I warmed her when she was cold. These are the only things that could truly be done for her at this point in *her* journey….
… and this was her journey. Not mine. My only hope is that my presence provided some comfort to her and to her family during my time with her.
That is being a nurse.