ICU nurses are experts at caring for the critically ill. As such, we usually see patients who are not fully alert and aware of what is going on, where they are or what happened to put them there.
I always felt this was divine mercy at work–allowing the unpleasant experience to be forgotten or never recalled. A touch of therapeutic amnesia to allow the mind to rest and relax in the midst of chaos.
Sometimes a patient will want to know specific things about events for which they have little or no recollection. How do you determine what to say and how much detail to give?
When this sort of question arises, it is most often because of some bit of information the patient may have overheard or misunderstood, causing him or her great anxiety. You can begin as with any teaching session by determining what the patient recalls and what in particular he would like to know more about.
On one occasion, I had a patient who was a retired professor at a local university and was very concerned about the physician’s discharge summary stating he had been placed on a ventilator due to a cardiac arrest. This had weighed heavily on his mind since the whole incident had occurred almost a year before.
Fortunately, I had admitted him to the ICU during the episode and was able to assure him with absolute honesty that he had been sedated and placed on the ventilator electively and not due to any sort of arrest, cardiac or otherwise. This information greatly relieved the anxiety he had carried around for so long.
Sometimes the practice of nursing continues long after the patient has recovered from the physical problems. To be able to give this man information that answered his question and relieved his anxiety was a blessing indeed!
“We often think of nursing as giving meds on time, checking an X-ray to see if the doctor needs to be called, or taking an admission at 2:00 a.m. with a smile on our faces. Too often, we forget all the other things that make our job what it truly is—and having a desire to make a difference” (Erin Pettengill, RN, quoted in RN Modern Medicine).