Sometimes as nurses, we are a part of extremely difficult and painful parts of peoples’ lives. You learn to develop professional boundaries, but for me it’s been impossible to leave 100% of the emotion I feel for these patients at the workplace. There are those few cases that touch you deeply; that change you.
One of mine was a dying patient I cared for who did not get the symptom relief she needed in a timely matter. She was agitated, combative, and climbed out of bed. The medicine the doctor ordered wasn’t working, even with higher and higher doses. I called multiple times asking the doctor to come see the patient and give us a different medication, but she never came.
The patient’s daughter was next to me, crying, begging me to do something. When I pleaded with the doctor to talk to her, she replied, “What is it about? I go off call at 10:00, I really don’t have time for this”. I was shocked, angry, and sad. I had four other patients to care for during this time, and I felt like my hands were tied. I knew that she needed better care, but I wasn’t able to give it to her. It wasn’t until 10:00 pm, five hours later, that we finally got an order for a medication that immediately calmed the patient from the on-call doctor.
I felt horrible that the patient suffered for so long, and that is was so unnecessary. Everyone deserves to have the most peaceful and comfortable death possible, and I feel our system failed her in this. I went home and thought about how different her last days could have been if she were sent home on hospice, with professionals specially trained in end-of-life care. This was one of they key incidents that led me to want to pursue this field.
I went camping with some friends that weekend. I am not an artist, but we burnt a stick in the campfire, and used it to create pictures. My boyfriend made the one on the top, a serene and pleasant mountain scene. All I could think of was my patient. My drawing depicts someone I desperately wanted to help, but whom I couldn’t quite reach due to multiple barriers. I hope she and her family found the peace represented in top picture, as I found some peace in creating the bottom one.
Art can help relieve pain and stress incurred in the clinical setting, and it’s not just nurses who can benefit. Recently, I attended a quarterly event called Seattle Ignite. Sixteen speakers give five minute speeches on a topic of their choice. A young woman named Carrie DeBacker spoke about her cancer treatment, and the art she created while in the hospital. Her drawings made me feel a little piece of what patients are feeling. She believes every cancer patient should be given a sketchpad, and advocates for arts in the hospital.
Carrie is now healthy and was never a hospice patient, but I am really inspired by her work, and I think it can be translated into all different settings. Whether it’s drawing, painting, music, writing, photography, or any other form, art can heal. Science is essential in nursing, but I hope to also incorporate art into my practice when I’m a hospice nurse.