As a nursing student in Block 4, one of my clinical rotations is to spend time in a Psych ward.
I am supposed to interview patients, remain professional, let them do most of the talking and practice my skills of “Therapeutic Communication” or TC. I am not supposed to divulge too much about myself. I am not supposed to touch the patients, make too much eye contact, or get too personal.
Although I can pass a written exam on this subject, I suck at the implementation of the technique.
Here is a story about a few minutes of my day in a clinical setting. I will not give enough information for you to guess what facility I was at, or who I was with; so this is ok to share.
I was inside of a locked down unit where adults-both men and women had all kinds of psych issues- that they were struggling with. This can be a scary place for an inexperienced nursing student to be.
I walked around, and visited with the patients one by one, most of them looked past me, and showed very little interest in answering any of my scripted questions. I did not really blame them, I am sure that they get this treatment from every nursing student that tries to visit with them. Finally, I went to the long table, and sat down in front of a chess board. One young man challenged me to a game, I told him that I did not play. So he started telling me his story instead. I listened for a long time. When he finished, he started to leave.
So thinking fast, I told him that I had illusions too. He looked at me like I had two heads, and sat down and said “Tell me more…” he was better at TC than I was. So I rewarded his effort by telling him about the tentacled monster; that lived in the pool at night in our old backyard. I could tell that I had his attention, so I continued. I noticed that the other patients were gathering to hear my story.
I turned to them, and told them about how when Steve goes out of town for business; I have to sleep with the lights on, because the noise of the heater kicking on scares me. I told them how Cody has to sleep in my room to “protect me” while I sleep.
What I found is that these people who were not interested in me as a nursing student; where indeed interested in me as a person with fears of my own. Soon, I was telling them stories about milking goats, making cheese, chasing chickens and collecting eggs, fruit and vegetables from my gardens.
Most of these adults were young enough to be my kids. I could tell that they now felt comfortable with me, and they each began to tell their stories. I told them about some sad things that happened in my life, and how growing a garden was my main coping skill. I clapped, and made a big fuss over the young man that sang “Oh Donna” to me. I blew kisses, I did high fives, and a couple of them asked if they could hug me. Of course I said yes. I started to cry when one of the boys (30 years old) told me how things were getting better for him. He said “Why are you crying?” I told him that I was happy to see such a change in him. He said “You are magic!”
He did not know it but he was speaking my lingo. I asked him why he thought that I was magic. He said “One of my problems is that I cannot feel happy, and I cannot feel it when someone loves me. But playing with you makes me happy, and I can tell that you really care about me.” “I have decided that I am going to think about you; it will make me happy, and then I will get better.”
Now, you can think what you want, he may have been playing some manipulation game with me, but I choose to think not.
He then asked if I would pray with him. I told him to go and ask the charge nurse if it was ok. He did and she said “ok”. I knew that this was gonna be magic, because my heart was full of love for these people. I knew that God was gonna give me some amazing words. But here is what surprised me. This troubled young man (whom they say blew his mind on drugs) took my hands, and said a prayer for ME! He prayed for my heart, my mind, my health, and my relationship to God. He prayed for my success in school, for my family and for my farm animals. It was so sweet and simple that it truly touched me.
When he finished, I prayed for him, his health, his happiness and healing. When the prayer was over, we gave each other a big hug. I looked around and saw the other patients had all been praying too. Oh my!
After the patients all had their bedtime meds, and all went to bed one by one, I talked to the charge nurse about what happened that night. I told him that I do not seem to be able to keep my boundaries, and though I truly enjoyed my 10 hours in the pysch ward that afternoon; I know that I would never be a good psych nurse. He said “I don’t know little lady, I think that you did just fine. Just fine indeed.