Action, Not Emotion: Compassion and Respect in Nursing CareAs a new nurse giving care, I was handed the report on my patient’s condition and was warned by seasoned nurses about his anger.  “You better watch out for that one, he is a grumpy and angry patient,” I was told.

After having received this information, and on my way to making my rounds, I approached his room with caution. I knocked on the door and when I heard a somewhat gruff, “come in,” I nervously wondered what to expect from this angry man.

Getting to Know

As I made my assessment, I tried to think of things I could discuss with this gray, whiskered gentleman. While I wrapped the blood pressure cuff around his arm, I made small talk asking if he had any family and what type of job he held.

I asked if he would like fresh water in his pitcher, if he would like ice in his water, and I made sure that he had extra drinking straws and styrofoam cups. I tried to keep lines of communication open and show him that I respected his desires.

As I continued communicating with him, he started responding back. He explained that he didn’t like the way people came in and out of his room with no regard for his feelings. He told me that he wanted some privacy and independence, and that he really appreciated that I had knocked before entering his room. After this, throughout my shift, I did my best to service him in ways that showed him respect.

Kindness Begets Kindness

I knocked before each entrance to his room and I carefully explained each procedure before it was performed, even if it was just a routine procedure.  I listened as he talked about his life and, by the end of my nursing shift, he began to open up to me about his true feelings regarding his illness. He was frustrated and frightened that his career might be over due to the development of his illness. His doctor had made a remark that led him to believe this was possible. He further explained that he was a bus driver and loved his job, and that he would miss his playful interactions with the kids.

I could tell by the sorrow filled tone in his voice how much this meant to him. I did my best to show compassion while nursing and hope for his situation, and mostly rendered a listening ear while he shared what was on his heart. 

When I entered his room the next day he was very chipper.  “I have something for you,” he explained. He riffled through a few papers on his bedside stand and picked up a small piece of newspaper with tattered edges. I could tell it was a small section he had ripped out. This piqued my curiosity. 

A Small Gift

I reached out my hand to receive his gift and he gently handed it over to me. My eyes quickly scanned the paper. It was a clipping of a cartoon character with a caption that read, “Love is...respect.” He personalized the message to me by placing my name on the top corner and signing his name at the bottom. That day, I learned a profound personal lesson through this patient.

I kept the clipping with its tattered edges and hung it on my bedroom mirror. It stayed there for years and served me as a daily reminder to have compassion and respect for others, especially the patients I was caring for.

Respect is not an emotion. It is an action we perform. It is something we do to show others we value them. Showing respect is one way we can show compassion in our nursing care and bring healing to someone during a compromising time of illness and loss.

How have you shown compassion and respect in nursing? Tell your story in the comments.