I Want to be a Nurse, I Want to Make a Difference

My inspirational patient
During my clinical rotation in the nursing home, I was assigned a gentleman in his 70's (we'll call Mr. Smith), as my patient. Mr. Smith had severe Alzheimer's disease, which had progressed very quickly. He had gone from sailing solo from the coast of Maine to the coast of Florida, to not being able to remember his name or that he could no longer walk, in just a few short years. This was even more depressing when I learned that he was a retired geologist, who had implemented clean drinking water systems in third world countries.

Today, he just sits in his chair, day in and day out. He can no longer care for himself, and due to what the Alzheimer's has done to his mind, neither can his wife. She visits every couple of days, but he doesn't recognize her. In his room, are a few pictures of he and his wife and of his sailboat. Although these pictures were only taken a few years ago, his looks have totally changed. Mr. Smith has a history of being combative and gets nervous when around a lot of people. Mr. Smith doesn't get a lot of attention from the staff for these reasons. I made up my mind that I was going to spend as much time interacting with Mr. Smith as I could and hopefully make a difference to him.

This was going to be difficult because Mr. Smith has trouble communicating, he is hard to understand because he mumbles and stutters. Even when you can understand him, he answers inappropriately or get tripped up on his words, get frustrated and shut down. Four days of reading his magazines to him, pointing out pictures and making small talk, had left me feeling pretty useless. He almost seemed to look right through me and I never felt like I was making a connection.

On our fifth day together, the day went like all the rest. I took him outside to sit in the courtyard, smell the fresh air and flowers and listen to the birds chirping. I helped him eat his lunch and complete his ADLs. We sat in his room, looking at his magazines and talking, of course talking meant that I was doing all the talking and he was just looking off into the distance.

When it was almost time for us to leave for the day, my instructor came into the room and spoke to us for a moment, kneeling down in front of Mr. Smith. When he left the room, Mr. Smith surprised me by saying, "He's a nice man, isn't he?" He said it so clearly and with so much meaning, it caught me off gaurd. I told him that I thought he was a nice man too. Then Mr. Smith did something I never expected and will never forget. He turned and looked me in the eyes, touched my chin and said, "And you're just the sweetest thing."

That was such a heartwarming and sentimental moment, I had to choke back a tear. I'll never forget Mr. Smith and our time together. He confirmed my desire to be a nurse so that I can help someone. To help that someone, who so many have given up on.

I really got through to him, I really made a difference.

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