A Touch. A Word. A Cause for Healing

Ron Watson, for HealthLeaders Media, May 4, 2010

I'm familiar with order sets and eMAR. I understand root cause analysis and composite scores. I can recite our hospital's infection rates, patient satisfaction scores, and average length of stay.

I was clueless about nursing and the healing power of a touch, a word, a smile.

Ten days as a patient in Doylestown Hospital were an education. As I went from sick to sicker to surgery and recovery, fleeting moments with nurses and techs were lessons in the meaning of health "care."

It was obvious from the start. I was in the ER with abdominal pain. A CT scan was ordered. When the contrast agent returned with the force of a fire hydrant, a nurse and tech consoled me and contained the mess. When I stopped long enough for a deep breath, Annemarie was already wiping the perspiration from my brow.

Similar acts of compassion were offered weekdays and weekends, day and night.

There were the two nurses who were downright cheerful soon after a physician seemed a bit uncomfortable describing an NG tube. Morgan, my nurse for the day, recruited Kathy for help. Kathy exchanged pleasantries while Morgan surreptitiously measured the length of the tube that would be necessary. Then Morgan produced a water cup and straw, describing what I would do. Kathy, meanwhile, was setting up the GOMCO.

What happened next happened quickly and I am thankful I didn't quite understand what an NG tube does until that moment. I witnessed a little celebration through my tears—two nurses had done something important, they did it on one try, and they included me in the party.

There was more joy seven days later when Kimberly removed the NG tube. I saw the relief on her face before I experienced mine.

Another Kathy was visibly upset when she found an empty urinal at my bedside six hours after she removed the Foley. She didn't know that Joe, the PT, had measured and dumped it moments before. When I told her, she looked as though I had given her flowers.

Others took similar personal interest in my condition.

Day three after bowel resection I began laps of the halls to awaken my bowel. The Winter Olympics were underway, and nurses, PTs, unit clerks, charge nurses, and physicians were soon cheering me on. On a pass by the nursing station where Rosemary was working, I overheard her say, "That's my patient." It felt good to hear it.

I wanted an ice cold Diet Coke since I awoke after surgery. Moments after the surgeon ordered a clear liquid diet "and a Diet Coke," Terry and Daniella, my nurse and PT, exclaimed "Surprise!" at my door and delivered the soft drink.

Throughout my stay there were nurses and techs who seemed to walk on cats paws in the middle of the night, fresh water when I hadn't asked for it, clean socks on the bed when I came out of the shower.

Some patients will remember annoying sleep disturbances to check vital signs and repeated questions about name and birth date.

But most patients will remember that a stranger offered compassion and tenderness they only previously experienced at the hands of their closest family members and dearest friends.

With appreciation to all the nurses (Julie, Dianne, Whitney, Joann, Shannon, Jessica, a third and fourth Kathy) and techs (Shelia, Alison, Jessie, Brenda, Lisa, Stephan, Dee, Barb, Angela, Livingston) not mentioned in the article.

Ron Watson is director of communications for Doylestown Hospital in Doylestown, PA.
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