Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Will's Story" Cont.

Will has worked for many years in health care in a major New York hospital. He is a paramedic and has a lot of experience working with people. He is a great listener and hears what is being said and is sensitive to people’s feelings. Will is a pleasure to be around. But he is also sensitive to when people don’t listen to him.

Like all of us, he wants to be heard. As a patient in the hospital, it is even more difficult. As the patient’s voice, I am not there to make the decisions for him, I am there to see that his needs are met, he is kept safe from harm, and he is treated respectfully. Unfortunately I can’t promise anything.

We went through the basically uneventful day with the nurses asking me if Will was a “he” and I was grateful he didn’t know they were asking. His chart and armband read F for female so it was good that they would ask. His facial hair, deep voice and masculine look couldn’t be mistaken for a woman, but no one really wants to make that mistake. “Good, I pass” Will would tell me.

The nurses and aids were gentle all day and I waited until the night shift to meet the new team coming on. Will was taking his medication, walking and doing everything he was supposed to do. Will is a good patient. The incentive spirometer, he would blow into to keep his lungs clear was within reach and he used that often too. Moments after Will used it and placed it covered, to keep clean, on the night table, a large man of about 50 came in dressed in white scrubs and was introduced as the night nurse. Towering over Will’s bed, Dan exchanged some pleasantries, asked Will about his comfort and pain and reached for the spirometer.

Uncovering it, I said “please don’t uncover it” Will said “I did it, leave it alone” but still, Dan, the night nurse insisted on uncovering it to show Will how to use it. I felt my heart sink and saw the expression on Will’s face. Complete lack of respect for the patient’s request.

When Dan left, Will and I looked at each other. I failed to protect his needs. What was I there for if I couldn’t protect him from something as simple as having someone touch his things? Should I have wrestled Dan to the ground? Should I have screamed and yelled at him “STOP”?

Will and I spoke about his feelings of not being listened to. He has had this happen before and it is part of the life of a transgender man. We wondered if Dan too was uncomfortable knowing that he would be the nurse for this man that may confuse him. But a nurse, in a hospital, can this really be an issue?

It made me rush back early in the morning to be sure Will was treated well over night. I was there when Will awoke and he told me that Dan was special. A conversation later with Dan helped me understand why he was so special. He is new at nursing, only 3 months. Retired from the police force and ran a department in New York City for years. This man was a gentle giant who wanted to do the right thing. In his past life, he was used to getting what he wanted. It was survival. But now, at the bedside of a patient who has very different needs than others may have, how could we make him aware that the patient, in this case Will, needs to be in control or at least shown respect of his body, and his possessions.

The morning went well and Will and Dan got along wonderfully. They had more in common than they realized at first.

Unfortunately, in real life or at the bedside, we don’t know how to make our needs understood in the first seconds of meeting someone. Maybe we all have to slow down and take the time to learn them.

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