The other side of the bed

Hemera | Thinkstock

My grandmother passed away last week, after a terrible fall and a surgery she never really woke up from. This was a person I spoke to almost weekly—she was formative in my life from the time I was born, so I had a special connection with her. So far, she is the closest loved one to me that has died. She was one of my best friends!

I went to her bedside soon after the fall and experienced something new: I was the family member on the “other side” of being a healthcare professional. A couple of things struck me.

First and foremost was the utter lack of control I had over the situation. As a nurse I am blessed with the ability to help my patients—even when they are in crisis, I can do something. It was utterly foreign for me to have to step back and let the “professionals”—in this case a truly wonderful hospice staff—do the helping. Yet I don’t like that feeling—that lack of control. But what nurse does?

The other thing that stood out was how, as part of my grandmother’s family, I was part of her death and really needed to be included in that process. Of course I know that with my own patients, their families are integral parts of the big picture. But this was the 1st time I experienced it first hand.

My grandmother was not aware of the people medicating her when she moaned in pain, or of those cleaning and turning her, or of the amazing people assessing her and taking her vitals. But I was. Honestly, I hung on to each word of the healthcare team, I listened with an open heart to their words of comfort and I appreciated every single thing the nurses and doctors did for my grandmother. (Especially the hospice nurses!)

I will admit that sometimes I see family as a hindrance to my job: they are too noisy, there are too many of them, they ask too many questions, they are too demanding. Truly I have a different perspective now. Being on the other side of the bed as a family member has changed how I view my nursing–and for the better. I see more clearly that my job’s impact really is far-reaching: I am not just changing the life of my patient, but what I do and say matters to my patient’s loved ones as well. What a responsibility!

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