Recently, I got together with one of the oncology nurses I used to work with. She filled me in on the latest news from my old work. Then, as usual when two or more nurses are gathered, the talk turned to how some of the patients were doing.
We both related the same experience of having recently been somewhere and encountering a patient whose name we couldn't remember, and how embarrassing it can be to spend months taking care of someone, getting to know his/her family, then completely forgetting the person's name only a few months later when their treatment finishes. We traded tips on how to get through those intensely awkward moments with as little embarrassment as possible.
I worked in a lot of different specialties before going into oncology. Since I live in the same area where I attended nursing school, bumping into former patients is something that happens pretty frequently. There's a difference, however, between an encounter with someone you took care of in day surgery versus a former oncology patient.
With oncology patients, "Do you remember me?" takes on a whole new meaning.
I don't feel like they're simply asking if I recall taking care of them. I feel like they're asking if I remember how sick and frightened they were when they first started treatment. Do I remember sharing their setbacks? Their triumphs? Do I remember their families? Did I mean it when I said I didn't mind staying late one weekend to give them hydration? Do I honestly want them to stop by the infusion room to say "hello" when they have a doctor's appointment?
When a former patient stops me outside the hospital and says "Do you remember me?" I can honestly say, "Yes." I may not remember their name, but I remember.
What have your experiences seeing former oncology patients in public been like?