By Cynthia Dusseault
Priceless. That’s just one adjective Tony White uses to describe nurses.He says they constituted the central part of his life during his gruelling six-month hospital journey in 2009, and were the catalysts that saved his life on several occasions. Today, as a public speaker with the HOPE (Human Organ Procurement Exchange) program, White visits MacEwan University a few times a year to impress upon nurses and nursing students the powerful impact their care – and their caring – have on patients.
A new awareness
In 2008, thinking he had beaten hepatitis B, White stopped taking medication. His liver protested and began shutting down in February of 2009, landing him in hospital and on the transplant waiting list. A living donor – his son – stepped forward, but although the surgery went well, White’s body rejected the liver. In addition, he developed pneumonia, his right lung collapsed and his kidneys failed. In ICU at the University of Alberta Hospital, with his kidneys functioning again and the pneumonia arrested, his doctors told him he had a 50/50 chance with a new liver. HOPE soon delivered, and the transplant was a success. Five and a half years post-transplant, White is healthy and happy, and just celebrated his 69th birthday.
He had never been hospitalized before. Two of his sisters and his daughter-in-law were nurses, but he considered theirs to be a profession no more special than any other. “Well let me tell you, when I hit the hospital, that’s when my opinion of nurses started to rise dramatically,” he says.
White says they were the constants he could count on amid a steady stream of doctors and interns whose names he seldom remembered. Shortly after he was admitted to the Grande Cache hospital for observation in early 2009, a nurse found him unresponsive on the floor of his room and initiated the process that put him on the STARS ambulance to Grande Prairie. A STARS flight nurse kept him alive in the helicopter. Shortly after his first transplant, a nurse found him unconscious and sped him to the ICU. Yet another nurse bagged him there until a ventilator arrived.
Caring presence invaluable
As much as the “care” White remembers, he treasures the “caring” nurses delivered. “When I woke up in the Grande Prairie hospital, intubated, it was a nurse whose face was in front of me, saying ‘It’s okay, Mr. White. You have a tube down your throat; that’s why you can’t talk.’ When I crashed after my first transplant, a nurse talked to my daughter, and told her they were doing everything they could for me. And a nurse gave my partner a hug as I was wheeled into the OR for my second transplant.”
Sometimes nurses simply need to be a caring presence, he points out, recalling how much a welcoming, gentle touch and a quiet ‘Good morning, how are you, Mr. White?’ meant to him when he was on shaky ground, occasionally thinking he might die. “A patient isn’t just a body in a bed, but someone going through emotional and spiritual as well as physical trauma,” he says, “and it’s just amazing what nurses take on – that holistic role. That’s why I call them angels.”
I believe a key piece we are striving for is to have nurses understand the significance of the human relationship in nursing, and to help them develop, within professional boundaries, healthy relationships with patients.
—Shirley Galenza, CPNE
Bringing caring into nursing care, in the educational setting
“When you talk about patient experience and what it’s like to be on the receiving end of care, it’s just so valuable and so powerful to have it coming from those who’ve lived it,” says Joan Mills, a MacEwan University faculty member who teaches in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and the Cardiac Nursing post-diploma program. In addition to inviting White to address her classes, she also invites the HOPE program coordinator, the coordinator of the Stollery Children’s Hospital’s Family Centred Care program, and the mother of a child who has died.
Mills’ goal is to help her students understand that nursing is far more than the application of knowledge and skills: it’s about caring for people. “Nursing is all about the patient – and I use that in a broad sense that also includes the circle of people around that patient – so we really need to bring caring into nursing care.”
When White speaks to Mills’ students, he often ends by thanking them for their choice of profession and for the care they’ve given and will continue to give during their careers. “It’s always emotional and moving,” says Mills. “He always has a tear in his eye, and it absolutely has an effect on the students.”
Shirley Galenza, the director of MacEwan University’s Centre for Professional Nursing Education, points out that the patient-nurse relationship is a fundamental part of providing nursing care. “It’s important for nurses to understand they may be the centre of a patient’s world, particularly in intensive care and continuing care settings,” she says, adding that in some cases the nurse will play a role as patient advocate if the patient’s circle is small or non-existent. “I believe a key piece we are striving for is to have nurses understand the significance of the human relationship in nursing, and to help them develop, within professional boundaries, healthy relationships with patients.”
“It’s a tough gig being a nurse, with all they have to do,” White acknowledges, “and you just can’t make it without good nurses.”
Shirley Galenza adds, “I believe a key piece we are striving for is to have nurses understand the significance of the human relationship in nursing, and to help them develop, within professional boundaries, healthy relationships with patients.”
At MacEwan’s Centre for Professional Nursing Education, you can discover the qualities and skills that are the basis of positive nurse/client interactions. Learn more at NURS 0173 Interpersonal Aspects of Nursing.