Written by Elise Adams
A kind touch from a nurse makes an ugly situation comforting when a patient is scared, alone and confused. This is true in any setting, but particularly in psychiatric nursing.
In my mid-20’s I struggled with severe PTSD, depression and anxiety. As you might expect, all this stemmed from a childhood that was where there was lots of drama and trauma. For several years I was nearly non-functional—either with severe depression or bouncing from one anxiety ‘high’ to the next. The laundry list of diagnoses I gave you above is just the basics. Doctors diagnosed me with half of the DSM-III at one point or another. (I’ve heard once that this physician’s diagnoses manual is more like a recipe book for psychological disorders—funny, but sort of true too!)
The low point
At one really low point I ended up in the ER at the end of my rope. I’d threatened or even half-heartedly attempted suicide before but this time I was serious. Seriously scared! The social worker evaluating me was over-worked and barely took the time to understand how seriously overwhelmed I felt. But when I said that I didn’t trust myself he said that I would be placed in the local locked psychiatric ward for 72 hours.
This may sound strange to some of you, but I felt such relief! For 72 hours I knew I couldn’t hurt myself. Just knowing that no knives or bottles of medications would be hanging around brought me some comfort. I fell asleep right there in the ER—for the first time in days!
Heading up to the locked ward
Soon an orderly came to transport me from the ER up to the locked ward. By now I was used to the strange looks and cautious approaches I got from the staff. Everyone knew I was headed to where they took the crazies. So it wasn’t a surprise to me when I was treated as if I might explode any second.
When those huge doors clanged shut behind me, though, it felt very strange. The entire psychiatric ward in our little town was barely 10 rooms with two hallways. This weekend there were only 3 patients. But the minute I met the nurse I knew that my prayers had been answered.
Calming and confident
I’ll never know the names of the nurses who were on shift that weekend. What I do remember is how confident and calming they were. I was completely exhausted from battling my own mind so all I wanted to do when I first got to my room was sleep. The only other memory I have of that first day was listening to an agitated patient bang on the nurse’s station, begging for more medication.
It was later that night that I felt even deeper comfort and care. After all the rigmarole of checking my vitals after dinner and delivering my meds (in such a tiny ward the nurses brought our meds to each of us individually) it was lights out. I’ll never forget what happened next as long as I live. The night shift nurse came and tucked me in!
Tears of happiness
In the middle of that psychiatric ward I cried tears of happiness. She’d come in after dinner and asked me if there was anything more that I needed. When I said that I was cold she brought me a warmed blanket. Instead of just tossing it on the bed or handing it to me she laid it over me and tucked it all around my body. It was a mother’s touch right there in the hospital!
At that time I carefully saved up the kind gestures people had given me. Sometimes it felt as if I was invisible—like no one saw or cared about my pain. So when this nurse went that tiny extra step to tuck that blanket around me she touched a much deeper part of me than just my cold toes.
Your touch makes a difference
So my personal message to all you tired, overworked, under-appreciated nurses out there—your touch matters. Your patients may not be able to tell you how deeply you’ve touched them. I know that I couldn’t even speak after my nurse-angel tucked me in that night. Just know that you DO touch us. And for some of us your touch has brought such deep comfort that we’ll always remember you.
Elise Adams is a dynamic public speaker, effusive blogger and grateful mom/wife today. In her mid-20’s she experienced a life-changing transformation from the mental anguish she talks about here. Today she lives a life free of addiction and depression. On her blog ‘Adams Organizing’ (http://adamsorganizing.com) Elise’s mission is to pass along the keys to surviving emotional and physical crisis through her stories of hope and inspiration.