Do You Ever Hold Your Patient’s Hand?


At work the other day, I witnessed something small that has taken up a big part of my thoughts since.

Some point in the shift, the phone rang, and I answered to a voice asking for the dialysis nurse. Common occurrence, as nurses come to the unit to dialyze patients regularly, and often nephrologists or other dialysis nurses call to give them orders or requests.

The dialysis nurse in request was one I’d observed before, though never worked directly with. I had already painted her in my mind as old, union-centric, and jaded. Once, I listened quietly as she talked loudly to another nurse about contract negotiations and the unfairness of nursing. To be short, I expected little from her; a burnt deadbeat.

But when I went to the room where she dialyzed a patient, I saw something that shamed my quickly-laced assumptions right out of me. There she sat, in a chair on the far side of the patient’s bed, holding his hand. He lay calmly, while the ventilator breathed for him, and the dialysis machine swirled quietly beside. I was confused by her tenderness at first; was this her family member? Then, as she carefully tried to pry her hand from his without waking him, I realized she was simply keeping him from needing restraints. He stirred, she smiled cautiously down at him, I moved on, the moment ended.

I’ve done this many times. Sometimes, when I worked night shift, I’d feel guilty restraining a patient when there wasn’t much going on. Quiet music and an ungloved hand to hold worked wonders. But it’s been awhile since I’ve been afforded this luxury, and I hate to say it, but I had yet to witness another nurse applying the practice in many years. It takes organization, purpose to pause and offer care that is both unordered, and undocumented.

Seeing this nurse holding her patient’s hand made me remember how silly and harmful it is to slap labels on nurses you don’t know. I had quickly titled her as useless months before, when really, she was caring and proactive with her patients. I’ve certainly seen plenty of dialysis nurses in rooms where patients lay restrained; instead she offered her observation and gave the patient 1:1 VIP service. How much more of her innovative care had I missed because of my clouded view?

I am quick to judge, I do admit. Laziness pains me, as does unprofessionalism. Nursing is full of examples of what not to do, sometimes more than those to emulate. But every nurse, good or bad, classy or crass, educated or not, became a nurse for a specific reason. I like to think that reason lies in moments like this one; I’ll be watching more carefully for them from now on.