Empathy Matters! Late at Night, in Rehab, My Anxious Mom, & ” A Woman Named Wendy”

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anxietyThere is no way I can paint a rosy picture of my mom’s recent hospitalization and subsequent rehab stay for a fractured left upper arm following a fall. She is 91, stubborn, hard of hearing, and has both reasonable and picky expectations.  She is smart and pretty astute despite some forgetfulness. Her anxiety has been off the charts and she wants, among other things,  to be HOME!  Her panic, hearing deficit, pain, dependence on unfamiliar and many new people all contributed to her confusion and despair.

It is very painful for me to see her suffer.  BUT,  one story in particular made me cry with gratitude.

I had taken her out for a drive and lunch by the river which is something we always do when I visit her in FL.  We sat feeling the breeze as she shared:

It was late, I couldn’t sleep.   I don’t know what time it was.  A woman came in and asked me, “Would you like me to sit with you?”  I couldn’t see her face, but she sat down and reached for my hand.  Something in the way she held and gently squeezed my hand comforted me.  I couldn’t see her face.  We just sat for a bit.  I think she told me her name was Wendy.  After a while she said she had to go.  She came back later.  I was able to fall asleep.

I welled up with tears when she told me this story and do so now as I write about it.  This profound example of human caring is  as therapeutic as medication, rehab, or brain surgery.  And we need all of these.  Wendy helped my mother to feel safe and cared for!  Days later, when I tracked her down and thanked her, she smiled and said, “It was nothing!”

Nothing? NOTHING?

It was a huge gift to  my mother and her circle of family and friends.  And if I can step back from my emotional involvement for a minute, I believe Wendy is an example of what healthcare SHOULD include at every step in every intervention.   Or at least more of a priority than it is.  Our patients are human beings and caring for them during times of vulnerability, a privilege.  Sometimes we loose sight of this.  Maybe some of us loose our way.  But not Wendy.

The emotional intelligence that she used to assess my mother’s  fear that night and understand what she needed and then to take the time to be with her is a reflection of her own compassion and brilliance.  It also is indicative of  organization that allows her the time and perhaps promotes this kind of intervention. So I commend Wendy Frazier, Rehab Tech and Consulate Health Care.

And there were other examples where I could feel kindness and respect extended towards my mom:

Tyrone, the P.T. engaged her in conversation while working with her.  ‘They’ rode to St. Augustine on an exercise bike and he encouraged her to walk while holding her hand b/c that seemed easier for HER than using a hemiwalker.

Valerie, the COTA was so gentle and such a great listener as she moved my mom’s healing arm through painful exercises and helped her to discover hopeful goals for gaining independence.  She spoke softly near my mother’s ears and my mom could hear her.

Kayla, one of the CNA’s who ALWAYS smiled and gently listened to what my mother needed and worked to help her.

Emily, one of the nurses.  When I asked if someone could help me get my mom in the car, simply took the wheelchair and got my mom into the car.

Pat, one of the CNAs (I think) was coming in the facility when I was returning.  I didn’t even have to ask, she said, “Need some help?”  And then helped get my mom out of the car.

Cait the LPN/MDS Coordinator/Clinical Liaison who listened to my concerns and my mom’s and facilitated a medication change and informal team meeting.   She also handed me the company ‘Core Values’ card so I could formalize my gratitude for Wendy’s efforts that night.  (Which I did with my mother!)

Emanual, another CNA (I think) who nudged my mom to join the table for dinner despite my mom’s reluctance, helping her to become part of the community.

I appreciate every one of you and suspect there are others who offered similar support that I didn’t personally observe.  These are not small gestures.  Please know, I hold you all in deep gratitude and heartfelt respect.    We may never eliminate suffering from healthcare.  Perhaps it goes hand in hand with our work.  But when we honor patients  in authentic caring connections, (like you did, Wendy), it makes a huge difference.

“Medical Improv” is a great way to build empathy and promote the best emotional intelligence, communication and collaboration!  Half-day, Ful-Day, and workshop series are available along with more in depth group process work. 

Beth Boynton, RN, MS

Beth Boynton, RN, MS

OD Consultant and Author, Beth Boynton has been trained in the Professor Watson Medical Improv Curriculum at the Feinberg School of Medicine Northwestern University.

Please contact beth@bethboynton.com or603-319-8293 To learn more about how a program can be adapted to your healthcare team, students, or organization.


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8 Responses to Empathy Matters! Late at Night, in Rehab, My Anxious Mom, & ” A Woman Named Wendy”

  1. Karen Eldridge says:

    Way to go Wendy! This article puts into words the joy, commitment, and caring that we are blessed to be able to witness every day!

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  5. Dear Beth, It is so good that you shined a light on the gentle and quiet way Wendy held your mother in her care — and to sleep — oh my gosh, that is beyond description in the hospital with all the interruptions and stimulation and struggle your mom was experiencing. It was something — in that quiet interaction Wendy conveyed that she saw your mom, understood what this must be like for her, and that the very best nursing intervention for the moment was quiet presence and touch. Magnificent — and never nothing. May it spread and become the norm. Blessings. Mary

    • Thank you, Mary. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful norm to aspire to? My mom has told me, “I’ll never forget that night!” I’ll never forget Wendy either. The best of the best.
      Take care, Beth

  6. Thanks so much, Elizabeth. Your feedback is also reaffirming. The ED called me to tell me that the staff really appreciated the feedback. That felt good too.

    I can sure relate to feeling frustrated and sick of the system….Anyways, thanks for reading and commenting….As always, it is a wonderful to be in touch. Beth

  7. Beth,
    This is so beautiful. The real healing touch. The purpose of healthcare. The reason we do what we do. I have been feeling frustrated, tired, sick of the system. But I know that there is another way- or else I wouldn’t keep doing what I so believe in. Thank you for this uplifting post that brings to light how much caring goes into healing. I loved reading it. Beautiful,

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