Life Lessons from Patients

Nursing is one of the most personally fulfilling careers a person could enter. Each day, you get to help people, communicate with them, offer care, and practice compassion and empathy. And while it’s true that there is likely no other career so demanding, the rewards are great and plentiful. Perhaps one of the biggest blessings that comes from nursing is the life lessons that we learn. Yes, there are plenty of lessons we get from working hard, showing up, and doing our best, but the life lessons we learn from patients have a long-lasting effect on us. Here are a few of the greatest life lessons we can learn from patients if we pay attention.

  1. Don’t Waste a Moment

In working as a nurse, I have treated more patients than I can possibly remember. Some patients are kind and others are not so nice; some patients overcome their illness, and unfortunately many have not. It’s a truth we nurses have to deal with every day we go to work. We often grow close to our patients and losing them can be absolutely devastating.

However, it is by seeing these patients live and die that we learn one of the greatest lessons possible: to never take life for granted and never waste a moment. We simply don’t know what life has in store for us, and we learn that nothing, not even waking up the next day, is promised to us.

While this may sound bleak, and losing patients can hurt, it is important to live by this lesson. Instead of being afraid that anything could happen or that we might lose our lives the way we have seen children, parents, and the elderly, we ought to live life to the fullest. If nothing is promised to us, then we need to take advantage of every moment that we are given.

  1. Family is Everything

Of all the patients I have cared for, the happiest ones were always the ones that have had a close bond with their family members. It didn’t matter what their diagnosis was, whether they were in the hospital for dehydration or chemotherapy, one thing was constant: those patients that had a good relationship with their family were the ones with the best outlook on life.

Indeed, as nurses, we come face to face with death and pain regularly, and as we saw a moment ago, nothing is a guarantee in life, not even our next breath. The only thing we really have is the relationships we build with others. This is usually in the form of blood relations – family – though I have seen similarly positive attitudes in patients who have close-knit bonds with non-relatives as well. They often tell me they are their “chosen family,” especially in cases where the blood relatives are less than supportive or helpful.

In any case, close bonds with people we love is crucial to living a good life, regardless of how healthy we are. Those are the people that will stick by you and help you in your toughest moments of life, no matter what you are going through.

  1. Have a Sense of Humor

One of my most memorable patients I’ve worked with was a man in his 70s. He was in the hospital for treatment regarding a bout of pneumonia. As he struggled each day with pain in his chest and labored breath, he took the time to tell me jokes. They were often cheesy knock-knock jokes or ones that I’ve heard a million times. But as he told the jokes haltingly through difficult breathing, he laughed louder than anyone. When he wasn’t reciting jokes he had learned, he was telling all of his nurses funny stories from his childhood.

I was in awe of how this elderly man, sick in the hospital with pain and a cough and a fever, could brighten our day by telling us jokes. He seemed to do it just for us, though I think, in this case, laughter was one of the best medicines. He was soon able to leave the hospital, healthy again. When he was discharged, the other nurses and I made a point to keep telling each other cheesy jokes, ones that made us laugh for no real reason. It reminded us of our patient and helped us keep in a good mood throughout the workday. I tried to bring this sense of humor with me throughout my life, and I’ve found that not taking myself so seriously has led me to be a happier and more lighthearted person, which in turn makes me a better nurse.

  1. You’re Stronger Than You Think

As nurses, we watch our patients go through tremendous challenges, both physically and mentally. They are often in incredible amounts of pain or dealing with uncomfortable side effects from medications that affect their day. They may be bedridden or struggling against their own immune system.

And yet, each day we see these patients push through the pain. We see them recover and go home. We see them in a few months’ time for a checkup, as good as new. And when we see these recoveries, we finally realize that we are capable of so much more than we thought.

While we may not go through the same difficulties as our patients, we will still face obstacles in our lives. But if we remember the strength of our patients, who persevered when things looked dark, we, too, can push forward and find success where we previously thought it was impossible.