A Nurse, A Patient and A Television
Hospital patients watch a lot of television to pass the time. As a result, nurses often catch glimpses of news and entertainment programs while walking in and out of patient rooms.
I saw Sarah Palin accept her nomination as a vice presidential candidate in a patient’s room. I also watched footage of the tsunami sweeping across Japan, destroying people’s houses and lives, at the hospital. Everything I know about the show “Jon and Kate Plus 8” and the guilty pleasure one gets from watching Judge Judy, I learned from bits and pieces seen on TV at work.
Television gives our patients, who often stay for weeks, a way for the world to come to them. Some get hooked on the History Channel; for others, it’s the movies that keep them occupied. One patient scheduled his whole day around watching Jerry Springer. Though he was stuck in the hospital with cancer, the sad and troubled lives of the guests on “The Jerry Springer Show” made him feel he wasn’t doing so badly after all.
One night I was working evening shift and realized two of my patients were watching the same detective show. I joked with one of them, a kindly middle-aged man, that I could probably watch the entire show in segments going from room to room.
Then he invited me to sit down and finish watching the episode with him. I looked up at the screen and saw the actor Mark Harmon, alongside an actor I remembered as Pa” on “The Waltons.”
“Oh, I can’t,” I said, reflexively. I had rounds to make and goodness knows what else.
He pressed me to stay. “You’ve got your phone. They’ll call you if they need you.”
But again I declined, and left.
Outside his room, standing at my med cart, I felt troubled. Yes, I had “things” to do. Nurses always have meds, charting, tasks — all pulling at our consciences. My patient’s invitation, though, was exerting a stronger pull, bringing to the fore a value I had felt so strongly as a new nurse: the importance of being with the patient.
It hit me that in my dedication to accomplishing the hospital work I was required to do, that I had forgotten how to be a nurse. I went back to the patient’s room.
He didn’t say much when I walked in and sat down. We watched together companionably, though. The plot involved drug dealers and safe houses, and my patient filled me in on who was who and what was happening. Justice was restored, and the episode ended with Mark Harmon and his dad repairing his dad’s store, which the drug dealers had wrecked.
The patient, happy for the company, elaborated on the show’s ending. “See, it’s the father and son, working together,” he explained. The scene obviously meant something to him, and reminded me, somewhat painfully, how little I knew about him. He was somebody’s son, possibly also a father. How was it that I no longer felt I had time to ask such basic and important questions?
This patient was scheduled to be discharged the next day after several weeks in the hospital. But the cost of saving his life had been isolation and, perhaps, a quiet loneliness. Not much of a price for a life, some would say, but such difficult feelings can over time take a toll on a person. All he’d wanted from me was to keep him company for a few minutes.
I had forgotten that television can be social. My patient had made a simple request of me to sit down and watch TV with him, to briefly be a part of his normal outside-the-hospital life that he would soon return to. The experience reminded me that enabling a patient’s humanity is part of every nurse’s job.
“Only connect!” the novelist E. M. Forster famously said, and that night I realized that television is just one way for nurses to enter a patient’s world. I just hope that next time a patient invites me to stay in a room I remember all the reasons why I’m in the hospital, and don’t hesitate to say yes.
Copyright 2013- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved
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Liz Di Bernardo