My favorite clown

I went in to meet my new patient this morning, and he was a friendly
older man. He asked for some coffee, and said that when I returned, he
would have a surprise for me. I brough him his coffee and saw my
present: a cute flower-shaped balloon. My patient was a clown, and he
has been for thirty years. He has spent half his life making people
smile. But today, he wasn’t smiling. He was anxiously waiting for his
liver biopsy results, worried that he would have to have some sort of
surgery. A doctor finally came to talk to him, and when she left the
room, I went back in to check on him. He was sitting next to his bed,
shoulders slumped over, staring at the floor. I sat down next to him,
put my hand on his hand, and said nothing. A few minutes later, he
looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "I have six months to
live." He put his other hand on top of my hand. "How am I going to tell
my wife?" The tears started streaming down his face. I felt them doing
the same on my face. "I don’t know," I replied. Several minutes passed
in silence. "I know we all have to go at some point, but my kids! How
can I tell them that I will not be here in six months?" More silent
tears from both of us. Why is it that this kind, loving man can spend
thirty years making people laugh and smile, and yet at this exact
moment, the scariest and most awful moment in his life, there is no one
who can make him smile or laugh? No words or balloons could possibly
take away some of the pain and grief he is experiencing. Somehow, this
made me feel empty inside. The one time my patient actually NEEDED
something, I came up with nothing. I know there is nothing I could
possibly do, but my heart is stubborn, and it won’t acknowledge this.
So I’m sitting here now, picturing my favorite clown laying in a scary,
lonely hospital room, balloons probably long forgotten, and I cry.
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48 thoughts on “My favorite clown

  1. Oh my gosh. That makes ME want to cry. It\’s good you can feel for people and their suffering…I think that\’s the saddest thing in the medical profession when people become so jaded they don\’t feel other people\’s pain!

  2. That is so hard. I work in a hospital as a CNA at the moment while I go to school. It is hard sometime because I always get so attatched too, some say that you become immune to the pain, I hope that I never do, but it is so hard. Stay strong, and be the best nurse to him that you can be. You will be an awesome nurse!! God Bless,Sarah

  3. You know, this entry actually has me thinking about the uncertainty of life. In another blog, a man is divorced and fighting custody battles… In another, folks are fighting against the effects of disease… In yet another, a man is almost completely paralyzed. Words may make this sound trite, but I wonder why all of are going through what we are. Whether the problem be directly affecting usk or someone else, it\’s just as hard. It\’s going to be terrible for your clown to have to tell his wife. But she has to know. The other thoughts revolve around how grateful I am for my little family, so snug in a little home, with enough food to eat… We\’re happy and there\’s lots of love to go around. We really don\’t have a lot, but when I think about your clown, it doesn\’t matter so much.Keep your chin up! Scooter and I are thinking about you and hoping the very best for you. 🙂 You\’re doing a great job, and you\’ve got people who love you because you\’re kind, good and devoted.

  4. You know, I think you did do something…you did the best thing you could possibly do by just being there and comforting him. I remember when my brother was in the hospital and how wonderful the nurses were to him. He still remembers how great they were to this day. When you are stuck in a lonely hospital under scary conditions, its great to have a smiling and caring face look after you.

  5. I agree you did exactly what he needed. You sat, you were quiet and you cried with him. One summer I worked in the supply department of the Arlington Cancer Center and it was heart wrenching at times. The nurses there had a saying, "Only the nicest most caring people get cancer." And it never failed to hold true. My aunt\’s life was cut too short from the disease – and she was one of the most loving and patient people I knew. Katie, you are doing a great job.

  6. Hello Katie. That is very sad. I imagine that is one of the most terrible experiences that a person can have. Maybe you could help him in terms of his clinical care so he doesn\’t have to worry about that. At least you could hear him out and he wasn\’t alone at that time. You can also pray for him, that always helps. We have to refuge ourselves in God; He is the only one that gives us peace in difficult times. Mi sister has a friend who was in a car accident. She broke her spine and was in intensive care and she is pregnant. She was going to have a life/death operation. A group of us prayed for her and now she’s getting better.

  7. Hi Katie – this is Roxanne from Malta. You were there, next to him. You cried with him. You did as much as you could, perhaps more than you were expected to. The rest is in God\’s hands. I think nothing is really in ours anyway. We just think so – or pretend so. Big hug across the ocean 🙂

  8. Be strong, be comforting, be thankful. Cry if you need to, feign confidence when necessary. Don\’t lose sight of why you decided to become a nurse. Without people like you out there, people willing to do what you do, where would we be? Know that although your job is difficult and extremely challenging at times, you are appreciated and very much needed. Dustin B.

  9. But you DID do something! You cried with him!!! Sometimes that can mean more to a person than any words you could say. Take care, Carrie

  10. I heard the same words 5.5 years ago! And what I said at the time was that they didn\’t know me and they didn\’t know what God had in store for me; they could only give me statistics. I think they should tell the cure rates and let it go at that… and maybe tell the patient they could have as little as six months but they could be in the percentage who survive. Give that man a hug from me and tell him I send him some hope. There may be a time when he has to accept but maybe this is not that time.Tell him to plan for the worst… get his life in order and say the things he needs to say to his family.. and then keep on planning for the future…don\’t live whatever life he has left just waiting for death.God bless you for your caring and for letting him speak out his fear and anguish!Hugs,MuMo

  11. Having stumbled across your blog I read "My Favorite Clown." Believe me, your actions said far more than any words could ever do.

  12. You did the best thing anyone can do for him. You were there! When you get older you\’ll find out how hard it can be to get someone to just be there. I\’ve been a nurse for over 30 years & have seen many people die. No one knows how much time they have. For some of us a lifetime is 6 months. For others it\’s 60 years. The one thing that is inevitable about life is that it is terminal. Hang in there, girl. It\’s a tough but rewarding profession & you really can make a difference.

  13. Katie, it never gets any easier as time goes by. BUt you innately knew what to do.. you held his hand and cries with him. You didn\’t let society\’s thoughts about Professionalism direct your response. You Humanized the event and let him know that he wasn\’t just another "Liver case". He is a loving and giving human being who deserves nothing less than what he gave. NEVER lose this quality about yourself. There is too little of it left in medicine.

  14. You did do something, and you can do something. You were there for him, listened, tried to understand, and cared. You can pray that God will give he and his family the strength to get through this horrible time. I am a nurse for 22 years, and left the hospital years ago, because I could not relate/cope or allow myself to become as vulnerable as you did in situations such as this Thank goodness for nurses like you! I was proud of you when reading how you handled this.Good luck with your career, you will be making a difference in the world.

  15. I am also a student nurse. You did more than you know for that man just by offering your presence. Good luck in your nursing. I have a final today! Just finished my first semester.

  16. Wow, I just stumbled onto this story on MSN\’s website, and thought I\’d read a little. I got to "my favorite clown", and the tears just flowed down my cheeks! This is an awesome blog, and I have the greatest admiration for nurses like you. You sound like an absolutely wonderful person!People like you are what makes this world a better place!!

  17. I have been a nurse now for almost a year. Death or facing death of a patient is always the hardest part of the job. You feel inadequate as a human being. The only thing you can do is care ,provide support for him and his family and make him as comfortable as possible. Challenges of being a nurse can be overhelming sometimes, but through faith in god, you can overcome your challenges and be the best nurse you can possibly be. You already have the best asset a nurse can have love for your fellow man. Hang in there I am praying for you.

  18. I have been a nurse for 19 years. You did exactly what you should have. You supported him; was truthful & showed him that you cared. Now all he & you can do is pray & fight to live. Keep up the good work.

  19. My wife is a very private person. She keeps work at work and home at home most of the time. Reading these postings gives me an insight into what her nights must be like as she too, is a nurse. It seems most of the advice here is to remember, there may be numbers that indicate a liklyhood (sp?) but the important part is to remember the Doctor isn\’t the one in control. Any of us including a clown could die in a car accident tomorrow, and he may just out live that doctor, who gave him six months. Thank you for being a caring nurse, who was there for a man, not a patient.

  20. I have Sickle Cell Anemia Disease and there is NO cure! Every week I must get three Procrit shots to help my blood. I have a Nurse,"Minney" that visits me weekly to draw and test my blood. Minney is a great nurse and she makes my last few months more happy because she has compassion that many nurses lacks! Friday my nurse will leave for a vacation to the Bahamas and I am glad that she will finally will get some happiness and joy that she deserves! You will be an AWESOME nurse! Please don\’t lose that humor and compassion for your patients because they deserve it! I wish there were more nurses like Minney and You!

  21. Please understand that the mere act of listening to the first verbalization of this patient\’s emotions is so much more than nothing. Compassion in any form is meaningful to our patients. Whether we are managing physical and emotional distress we are providing comfort and human support. Please remember there are many things we cannot fix when it comes to our patients, but the kindness, dignity and manner we approach them is of utmost important. Believe me that this is the most difficult and worth while profession and you will be wonderful. Best wishes, CABNurse2004

  22. As a nurse for almost 12 years I think your article My Favorite Clown was so well written. You have a big heart and I am sure you touched that patient in ways you may never know! Merry Christmas.

  23. This kind of a story is exactly why I want to be a nurse. The situation is incredibly sad, but I think you did the best that you could do. Listening to this man was the best thing for him at the time, and whether or not he was able to realize it is irrelevant. In the future, he will look back and realize that you were the first person to listen to him and allow him to begin greiving for his own life! Being a nursing student is so rewarding! I love the experience.

  24. Hey- Where do you people come from?? I cannot stop laughing!! How total cheese ball can you get?? I am a nurse and have been for 4 years. The only time I cry is when a patient has a massive "code brown" and the smell hits you like a freight train without brakes. Where does a real nurse find the time to actually sit down, cradle a pt\’s hands, and cry with them about their impending doom? (Sure if the pt. is a 1:1 assignment and Southwest Transplant has already been notified and no family in sight.) As a student nurse, the good thing you really did was help the real nurse avoid being stuck in the pt\’s room figuring out why he\’s despondent which would keep her from passing out meds on time for his/her other pt\’s and catch up on charting on his/her other patients.

  25. Katie, I\’ve been a nurse for 18 years and sometimes the best thing to do is nothing but be there. You held his hand, let him talk, and cried with him. He\’ll probably never forget you. You obviously have the right instincts and will make a great nurse. Sometimes there aren\’t any "right" words to say and it\’s not necessary to do anything but listen. You did a good job.

  26. I so enjoyed your well-written blog about "My Favorite Clown." I agree with Emory70 that you have a big heart! You will go far in nursing. I have been an RN for 10 years, and I have cried with many of my patient and their families when I have no words to say. Sometimes, that\’s all you can do. I love my profession–the challenges, laughs, tears and frustrations. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts.

  27. Wow, Nurse-4-Reel, time to get out of nursing. You\’re fried after only 4 years. It\’s sad. If the conditions are that bad where you are, find another job that\’s less stressful. They do exist you know, you don\’t have to be miserable. I got sick of the hospital crapola too, so I got out. That\’s what great about nursing, there are hundreds of specialties and different things you can do. I sacrificed some $$, but now I don\’t work weekends, holidays, or nights, and my mental state is better, and I have time to spend with my family.

  28. I\’ve been a medsurg nurse for 23 years, & I would\’ve handled clown patient the same way. I usually can\’t cry, but I see nothing wrong with crying. You were there when he needed to not feel alone. There are no right words, except to care & that is what you did. Sometimes, we need to take mental breaks, but to quit, is a loss to ourselves & others. You go girl!

  29. In response to Nurse 4 Reel, she must never have had a close family member die, and/or she is one of those nurses that everyone hates to have. Sometimes the only thing you can do is BE THERE for that person. NOT turn away, and say, "well that is the doctor\’s diagnosis". I hope to never have to deal with someone that cold. Yes, you have to be professional, not the ice b***h. I work with at-risk students in an inner city school. You have to distance yourself, but never forget how to feel. That is not cheeseball, that is what professionals use, including the military. When someone is no longer disturbed by violence or death, that is when they are moved somewhere else away from weapons.

  30. Wow great blog. I am a student nurse as well and I too can relate to the situation. You did what you could do, gave him support by just simply being there. Remember therapeutic communication includes touch and silence. Giving him false hopes is not what he needed and you did the right thing. Not everything in our field is easy and this sure wasnt an easy task. Kudos to you for doing the right thing and for writing this wonderful blog. I will keep reading your blogs they are great!

  31. Wow, reading those comments from Nurse 4 Reel really makes me angry. I work for a large hospital corporation in Missouri, and while I\’m not a nurse, I do know a lot of things that nurses go through, etc. Nurse 4 Reel is exactly the type of nurse that we need to get rid of. She is a liability to her company, and doesn\’t deserve to know such personal and emotion things of her patients. We need more nurses like this blogger that are caring, compassionate, and not full of crap. I know nursing is tough, but hopefully you knew that before you got into it since you\’ve only been doing it for 4 years, Nurse 4 Reel. In which case…you are obviously one of the nurses that got into the profession for the money and not for the people. That disgusts me….

  32. Nurse 4 Reel…….You are so, so sad. Please get help, and enter a new profession. Even if you just leave the hospital, it would be better for all concerned, including yourself.Your crass, low brow, disrepectful comments about patients, and about our profession in general discgrace yourself more than anything else. You may as well write "I am sick and say assinine things". It would be easier.Good Luck to you.

  33. Re: Nurse 4 Reel and comments by same.Lovely to hear that you\’re a nurse. Of course, this is the internet, so I could be the Pope, one never knows.Wondering, what exactly do you hope to gain by publishing insulting comments? Doesn\’t seem to serve any real purpose. Cyberspace is an artificial world, folks often invent artificial personas. Can\’t help wondering if you decided to invent a career as a nurse. If so, why would you decide to invent a career as a burned out idiot nurse? Grief and despair never amuse me. Stupidity does.

  34. I think that you did an excellent job. I am 31 years old and have been a RN for 10 years. What can you say? We really don\’t know these patients on a personal level. We are taught to listen and acknowledge. A good nurse does show emotion, otherwise your not a real person, or you really were not listening. We are the ones the patients want to come back. As a patient myself who was diagnosed with cancer over a phone call at work, I can really relate. All you want is someone to hug until all your tears are dry! (At least for the moment.) I wouldn\’t feel bad for what you did. And trust me it will happen again.

  35. I stumbled onto your blog, and I think your a wonderful person, and this profession is definitely your calling. Don\’t let anyone tell you otherwise.If Nurse4Reel is an actual nurse (Which, to be honest, I doubt — sounds like a juvenile flamer to me — comments like that normally come out of the mouths of rotten 13 year old boys who are bored….) then I doubt that person came to the profession out of caring for others. Probably thought it would be a great way to get back at people. (Caring professions attract 2 types of people, the people who are warm and caring, and the people who are either tring to fix themselves, or need feel powerful over other people. — Always beware of the 2nd type, no matter where you are. They tend to self-destruct, and want to take others with them.) But I\’m sure you\’ve realized that by now.As a permanent patient, my only advice to impart on you is: butterfly needles. They are a wonderful invention, as my arms will attest to. ;). I think the world will be a much better place when all blood drawers employ butterfly needles freely. Good luck with your studies, and may you succeed. (As a recent college grad myself, I totally understand where your coming from — I went back for HTML classes, and finally snagged an entry level *real* job 900 miles away from my home. You have much more courage than I, I can\’t even watch blood on PBS.)

  36. WOW – Nurse 4 Reel – sounds like you need to get out of nursing and get some COUNSELING! 4 REEL!The wonderful thing about being a Student Nurse is that we have the time and can afford to sit with patients who need THERAPEUTIC COMMUNICATION – remember that? or did you skip out on class that day?May God Help Your Patients!

  37. I think the way you dealt with that poor man was appropriate. I have been a nurse for 19 years, most of them spent working in an ICU. Yes, nursing can be difficult. Yes, you don\’t always have the time for the kind of attention you would like to give a patient, particularly up on the floors. Yes, sometimes you are exhausted. But a kind touch and a compassionate ear is exactly what the patient wants. Sometimes there is just nothing you can say, other than acknowledge how difficult this is for him. I cry with patients and their families sometimes, and I don\’t feel it portrays me as any less professional for it. I feel that they appreciate that someone cares what they are going through. Nursing is the one job where you can laugh and cry all in the same shift. It is wonderful. Keep going, you are doing great!

  38. In situations like that how can anyone really make the situation better? You did what you could by listening and showing compassion to "your favorite clown". I\’m a medical assistant going to school for nursing now and i have a father that\’s dying of prostate cancer and i know that all i can do is be there for him and listen to his fear of leaving this world. I think that it doesn\’t seem like much to you but, i bet he\’ll always remember the nurse who cried with him in his time of need. Stay strong it\’s a hard and emotion career.

  39. I think we\’ll all agree and by (we\’ll) i mean actual human being with hearts and souls that have known love and loss and can actually have real relationships with people, that Nurse 4 Reel is a childish nobody that has nothing better to do with her time than to roam the internet posing as a hard ass and smash on people with real lives and no emotional handicaps. Get a life Nurse 4 Reel, nobody wants to hear your comments, opinions, thoughts, ect. Go do something productive with yourself like sign yourself into an assylum.

  40. I\’ve been a nurse forever, and darling, you did just right. If you want to call it something, it\’s "theraputic use of self". You were just a human being, being with another human being, listening, mourning.

  41. "The one time my patient actually NEEDED something," You did the the best thing, you sat there and provided him some quiet company, thats what nursings all about…ive been a nurse for 14 yrs, what you did was right…..good luck in your new career.

  42. Last year, Nov 23, 2004, my husband died after having Multiple Myeloma for just 5 months. I will never forget the nurses who cared for him while he was in the hospital, MULTIPLE times during those 5 months. There were some who came in, did their job and left. Then there were others who really CARED for him. They showed compassion and genuine concern… like you did. They didn\’t have to say anything. There was nothing to say, and it\’s not really words which convey what is in your heart… it is your actions. Bless you for your actions with this man. They said more than words ever could. I know. We need more nurses like you. Thank you.

  43. hey Nurse for real, you are excactly every thing that I hate about the nursing profession. Just another burnt out old hag who goes in, ignores buzzers, is rude to family, sits and talks to the unit clerk, and then goes home and cashes her big fat paycheck. A paycheck that she did not earn for sitting inside a nice air conditioned hosipital. You are pathetic and cold.

  44. Katie,I\’ve been in nursing for 20 years. You did great kid! Perhaps we should offer the grumpy one pwho has posted enemas until clear. To those who do not feel any sense of compassion at human suffering, real estate is a lucrative field. Go quickly. We who care are already filling in for your shortcomings. You will not be missed.

  45. Nurse 4 Reel, I know the reality of being a "real" nurse and according to popular opinion here, if you really are a nurse you need to leave and do something else. How \’bout counseling since you have so much advice to give on nursing and addictions? If you were taking care of one of my family members, I would campaign to get you fired and would not stop until it happened. (I\’ve been on that side of the bed too, so don\’t tell me I don\’t know what it\’s like.) I can\’t believe I\’m getting sucked into this argument in the first place. Why don\’t you have a shot of Jack Daniels and relax with your other nurse colleagues who share your opinion.

  46. well, I have only been doing the nursing thing for a little while but I know how you feel. The complete and utter feeling of being useless. When things like that happen there really is nothing more you can do but sit and cry with them.I have been there many a times. Eventually you will get used to it and just not be able to cry anymore. It\’s sad but true.

  47. As a person who got a fatal diagnosis (albeit a bit prematurely) I can tell you that what you did – put your hand on him, and just be quiet) is the perfect response. There ARE no words at that time. If I could fittingly respond to the idiots who babbled to me about none of us knowing our time, and the possibilty of anyone getting hit by a bus or truck (why isn\’t it ever just a plain car?) on the way home, or crap about the goodness some deity or other (who is, after all the guilty party), there would be a lot of folks with no tongues…

  48. Because of nurses like "nurse 4 reel" I choose the nursing profession as my career. My experience with the cold, heartless nurses during my admissions, made me feel worse!!! "Nurse 4 reel" should be ashamed for giving nurses the bad reputation that they have. I always cringe when people find out that I am a nursing student and then tell me their horror stories of wicked nurses. Much to my amazement, they ALL always have a story about that one special nurse who made it all better by being human…so thanks Katie for being that one special person during such a sad moment….I hope to be one too!!!!

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