Five days a week, for eight hours, I tend to people sick in bed. As much as possible I try to make my care individualized, and I do this by knowing each patient’s history, befriending their watchers, memorizing what time of the day their blood pressure shoots up, and mastering how they want their medication administered, among many others.
There are patients to whom I love giving bedside care, partly because they acknowledge the work I am doing for them; there are others whom I dread. Some patients also take notice of my existence as a person and not just as their nurse: They ask about my day, my plans, etc. The hardest patients to attend to are those who cannot speak my language. In fact, I very much prefer comatose patients than others who can produce sounds but in a totally different language or dialect. Sometimes I wish I were a polyglot. Seriously.
As much as I want to give personalized care, my duty is limited to those eight hours in a day. Some patients get well fast and I do not see them again the next day. If it’s just personal care I obsess over, then what better way to practice it than with my loved ones? Since becoming a full-fledged nurse a little over two years ago, I have not taken serious care of anyone in my family.
But on a fateful Wednesday night, my teenaged sister complained of stomach pain. This sibling of mine is a complaint addict: I sometimes suspect she is a hypochondriac. She always complains of something unusual in her body, or a headache, back pain, vertigo, with menstrual pain topping the long list. I remember that when she was about seven years old, she whined of blurry vision. It was about the same time that I started wearing corrective glasses, so we thought she was just envious of my new look and wanted to wear glasses, too. Mom did not take her to the ophthalmologist, until we noticed that she was watching television sitting so closely to the TV set. After a checkup, we learned that she indeed needed glasses.
So back on the night she complained of stomach pain, she said this pain was different from others she had experienced. I proceeded to make my assessment: pain scale of 7/10, located on the right lower quadrant of her abdomen, more painful on rebound palpation, positive pain on the right quadrant even if the left quadrant is being palpated (Rovsing’s sign). I concluded it was appendicitis.
I told her to fast for eight hours preparatory to an ultrasound in the morning. When I told her that she could not go to school the next day as she needed to undergo surgery soonest, she protested and said she could not miss classes because of an examination.
This is ultimately the case with sick family members: They know you too well, are hardheaded, and doubt you. They would rather listen to other people in the same line of work as yours even if you are saying the exact same things. “Real” patients, on the other hand, believe every word you say because they do not know you personally; well, they may doubt you a little, but not as much as your family members do.
My sister wanted to go to school, she could endure the pain, no fever or vomiting yet. So I let her decide. Early the next morning, as I was preparing for work, I asked her how she was feeling; she said the pain had eased.
She was able to get to school and, afterwards, went directly to the hospital where our mom and I work. After a few diagnostics, she was wheeled into the operating room for emergency surgery. The damned appendix had not ruptured yet, thank God.
After the surgery, I stood as her bedside nurse. I saw her as a totally different person because she might complain a lot but she was strong: the strongest and bravest patient I had so far. In just two days, we were discharged from the hospital.
Lesson learned: Have faith.
I thank the Lord for giving me enough knowledge to care for people I don’t and do know. Once again, I have seen my profession in a changed light. I believe I am feeling fulfilled again.
Airina April B. Desuyo, 24, is a staff nurse at Manila Doctors Hospital.
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