A Dream of Horses: An Aging Veteran’s Healing Encounter

“Let’s go for a ride,” I said to Joe as he lay expressionless on his bed, covered in blankets and staring at the ceiling. The room was stuffy with hot, stale air. No bigger than a walk-in closet, the space held the lifetime possessions, many of them scattered on the bed, floor, and windowsill, of a 75-year-old veteran residing in an assisted living facility. Joe appeared frail and bored in the silence of the room.

Illustration by Janet Hamlin for AJN.

That’s the start of the Reflections column, “A Dream of Horses,” in the January issue of AJN. Written by a nurse at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the short, moving essay describes a series of healing encounters between a frail older man, who seems to have given up on life, and the horses at a therapeutic equestrian barn.

The here and now.

The story told here reminds us how much we humans can cocoon ourselves against the more elemental forces of the natural world, and how healing it can be to encounter a magnificent animal that asks only that we be present in the here and now. The senses awaken. We look beyond our own habitual ways of thinking and feeling and acting. Maybe, something […]

A Crucial Public Health Lesson: Let the Women Speak

” . . . people have their own hope and power which they need to discover.”

Illustration by Gingermoth for AJN.

Do some public health projects fail to live up to their ambitions because they were conceived in a conference room rather than in dialogue with those they are trying to help? It seems possible. Terms like client or community “buy-in” are now fashionable, but maybe what’s really meant by such terms is that people are given a chance to state their needs and their concerns ahead of time. And that someone is listening.

In this month’s Reflections essay by nurse practitioner Mark Darby, he remembers a valuable lesson once imparted to him through example by a Dominican priest. “Shut Up and Let the Women Speak” doesn’t flatter the younger version of the author who once visited the Dominican Republic on a medical mission. […]

An Unusual Privilege: A Patient’s Memorable Grace

Jonathan Peter Robb works as a district nurse for the National Health Service in London and has published two essays in AJN‘s Reflections column in recent years, “How I Built a Suit of Armor as a Nurse (and Stayed Human)” and “Verification.”

I was working an evening shift and it was five o’clock when my mobile rang for a call-out. The patient was a woman I’d seen before, who’d been on and off our books for the past few years. She was old, and unwell, and when she last returned home, we were told she was dying. She had been made palliative. Her name was Ruth.

Even with her fluctuating health, Ruth remained incredibly sharp. She was also persistently positive. Ruth was the type of patient you could talk to and forget they were a patient. She asked me questions about myself. Despite the number of people I care for and my enquiries into their health and lives, it is a rare person who asks questions about my life.

I headed out to see Ruth. She was still living at home, her daughter acting […]

2017-12-01T14:06:39+00:00 December 1st, 2017|narratives, Nursing, nursing stories, Patients|3 Comments

Through Song, a Nurse’s Renewed Connection to An Ailing Mother

Illustration by Barbara Hranilovich for AJN.

Millions of Americans are now acting in some capacity as caregivers for an ailing parent. This month’s Reflections column is by a nurse who describes a moment in time as she helps to care for her home-bound and dying mother. Her mother remains, on occasion, as judgmental and offputting as the mother of her childhood.

But in such cases, there’s little to gain by dwelling on old disappointments and hurts—and in this instance, there are good memories as well.

The common language of song.

These good memories are primarily associated with her mother’s love of and talent for singing. “Moon River and Mom” describes this nurse’s experience of tending her mother’s leg wound as the Meals on Wheels man visits, and what happens afterward when the author prompts her mother to sing. […]

When a Patient Turns Scary, a Nurse’s Options Aren’t Always Clear

I was leaning over my patient, listening to his lung sounds, when his hand tightened around my wrist. “Why don’t you get in the bed with me?” he said.

Illustration by McClain Moore

That’s the arresting opening of “The Squeeze,” the Reflections essay by nurse Danielle Allen in the September issue of AJN. Such scary experiences happen, as many nurses can attest. What behaviors cross the line? Who decides? After all, nurses put up with lots of challenging behavior. What’s unacceptable, and what constitutes a real safety issue?

Complicating these questions may be the responsibility a nurse feels to not let down their equally burdened nursing colleagues. No one, as Allen writes, wants “to be that nurse. You know, the complainer, overly sensitive, not-a-team-player nurse.”

Allen vividly evokes her encounter with the patient, the varied responses of nursing colleagues later, the emotional aftereffects of the event, and the larger question she finds herself asking about what can be done to keep nurses and other health care workers safe. […]