I do not do this often. When families invite me to personal events, I usually decline. First, because I do not want to cross the line from professional into friendship in order to avoid any conflict of interest later on. And secondly, sometimes, the oncology nurse reminds everyone of a more challenging and vulnerable time--and who wants that karma at a family gathering?
But I made an exception yesterday. I have previously written about this patient; a breast cancer patient ending up in the ICU for over 109 days with a variety of consequences that had nothing to do with her breast cancer diagnosis. After calling two Code Blue alerts within 30 minutes and the sequelae that followed, I was convinced that this patient would not survive. But she rallied and became the miracle of the hospital.
I had come to know the family well over those long, dark days and now I was being invited to a birthday party. I could not refuse. My plan was to arrive, visit briefly, and celebrate happier times, and then depart. I was honored to be included, but did not want to overstay my welcome--not wanting anyone to associate me with the extensive recovery.
What a remarkable day. We cried over the past events, joyous in noting how well the patient was, laughing, drinking wine, and telling stories of her recent cross country trip. I was introduced to other guests as the “angel” who came and watched over their loved one, and saved them the anguish from bureaucratic hospital processes. I was unable to convince them that I am mortal and I was simply doing my work as oncology nurses and navigators always do.
It is difficult to imagine that a patient you thought would not make it through the course of events would be the life of the party a year later. I will be with her tomorrow as she finishes the process of breast reconstruction. We will cry at getting across the final finish line and moving on with her life. My navigation duties completed; I am grateful and contented at this outcome.
For all the times that I did not attend personal events, I realized that I was preventing myself from seeing closure, the return to living a full, productive, and happy post cancer life.
Has anyone experienced a close relationship with a patient? How did that experience change you or your patient?