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 […]

Simple Intervention Decreases Oral Mucositis from Head and Neck Cancer Treatment

A painful effect of cancer treatment.

Nurse Cindy Dawson provides patient education on oral care kit used in a nurse-led intervention to reduce oral mucositis severity in adults treated for head and neck cancer. Photo courtesy of Kay Klein.

Years ago, when I worked with patients being treated for head and neck cancer who had been admitted for one reason or another, I felt helpless in the face of their extremely uncomfortable oral mucositis. None of our topical concoctions seemed to bring much relief to these patients, who had often endured disfiguring surgery as well.

While there is as yet no perfect solution to this uncomfortable side effect from the radiation or chemotherapy used to treat head and neck cancers, a group of oncology staff nurses and their colleagues have demonstrated that a consistent, standardized approach to oral care for these patients may significantly alleviate the pain of this almost universal treatment effect.

Consistent, standardized oral care.

After reviewing the literature on oral care, Cullen and colleagues enhanced their usual patient teaching with oncology radiation center outpatients, worked with staff in all disciplines to ensure that their oral care messages were consistent, and assembled a specific oral care kit (containing such items as non-irritating toothpaste, lip salve, […]

Comforting Our Patients: The Importance of Well-Chosen Words

‘What I Said,’ ink and crayon on paper, Julianna Paradisi 2018

Nurses and writers understand the importance of well-chosen words. Precision of language is important for both. But nurses learn the emotional impact of words, wisely or poorly chosen, on the job, directly from our patients. There’s seldom an opportunity to edit or revise on the floor of a nursing unit. Words cannot be unsaid.

As an oncology nurse navigator, my nursing practice is almost entirely based on words. My stethoscope, which rarely left my body when I was a PICU nurse, now rests coiled like a snake in a basket, nestled among the art supplies I used to illustrate this post.

Since patients rate my nursing skills by my words, the ability to pass the ‘bs test’ is more important than ever before in my career. As a navigator, I have impressed a patient or two (and helped them get proper care) by recognizing over the phone that the symptoms they described were cardiac related and not the side effects of cancer treatment. But for the most part, words are the tool I rely on to prove my value.

It’s the nature of nurses to want to comfort our patients. We understand their emotions run high when they are faced with a […]

Emotional and Physical Health Consequences for Children of Jailed Parents

Michael Coghlan/Flickr

In the United States, more than half (54%) of all prison inmates are parents with minor children. As we discuss in the December AJN Reports, those children—an estimated 2.7 million, or one in 28—face physical and emotional health challenges that often go overlooked, including:

  • obesity, asthma, migraines, and hypertension
  • depression, anxiety, PTSD, and problems at school, including a higher likelihood of being expelled or suspended

Additionally, children with incarcerated parents are at an economic disadvantage due to lowered family income caused by the parent’s absence, and are more likely to experience racial discrimination, parental divorce or separation, a parent’s death, domestic abuse, neighborhood violence, and coresidence with a mentally ill or suicidal person or with a person who has a substance abuse problem. […]

2017-12-15T08:29:46+00:00 December 15th, 2017|Patients|0 Comments

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