Mr. S was readmitted (second time following hip surgery) to LGH directly from the surgeon's office. He had a second emergent surgery to remedy a hematoma. Sitting with the surgeon at 1630 after the surgery, all seemed to be well. Mrs. S went to 4 Lime to await his return. Two hours later, she learned that he actually went to 6 North (Intermediate ICU); she went home without seeing him. The next day, Mrs. S called me at 0830 in frantic tears saying that when she phoned into IICU, staff weakly apologized that she was not informed that post-surgery a decision was made to do a third surgery to remedy continued bleeding. I arrived before Mrs. S to pray with, and anoint Mr. S, prior to surgery. Mrs. S was greeted by his nurse in IICU with "I'm sorry" couched with blame of others and lack of personal/professional responsibility. Mrs. S appropriately was distraught. As she accompanied her spouse to Ortho pre-op, I went to contact the Patient Representative, who responded quickly and met with Mrs. S during Mr. S's surgery.
After I had called the Patient Rep and was in the Ortho Waiting Area, I was invited/summoned back into the Pre-Op area to be with the patient and his spouse. That is where I met Amy, who was prepping Mr. S for imminent surgery. She treated him with dignity and listened to him with empathy (distinguished from sympathy, that is rationalizing and distancing, empathy here means Amy identified and took the feelings into her being). Amy listened actively in ways that enabled her to respond non-judgmentally and non-defensively with sensitivity and compassion to the emotional pain and institutional disappointment being expressed by patient and spouse. More than a nod, she reiterated what she heard back to Mrs. S so that she truly understood. While fully attending to Mr. and Mrs. S, there was a mutuality developed as they got to know who this nurse caring for them was as a person without that disclosure interfering with the focus of care on them.
Amy remained physically and emotionally present with this couple throughout surgery. I observed that Amy delayed her lunch until Mr. S was taken back to the OR (I know this because Amy's colleague went ahead of her to the James Street Cafe, where we later went and saw Amy arrive when we did). Mrs. S expressed to me upon leaving the unit that she felt heard and was in a better emotional/spiritual state because of Amy's care.
I was a pre-op chaplain for 9 years, and appreciate the compressed time pressures of prepping patients. Amy was able to complete those protocol-driven responsibilities and respond to the emotional/spiritual issues precipitated by the systemic lack of communication that rattled patient and spouse. She was empathetic; she entered into their distress non-defensively and demonstrated through active listening that she was sincere in her care and compassion. Amy went the extra step of phoning the surgeons' office to alert them of a communication issue that was not producing good customer service.