The holidays are here and with them we find ourselves at family and social gatherings reconnecting with family and old friends, and often meeting new people. As we share stories, we may be confronted with questions that challenge us to share more of ourselves in situations where we might not otherwise have such conversations.
The most common social convention is to ask: “What do you do (for a living)?” I’ve struggled myself at times to not box people into situations by asking that question, yet it is challenging to ask a question that is not too personal or invasive yet helps break the ice and allows us to get to know each other, even if only in the social context without future interaction.
I reflect, too, on how superficial these interactions can be. Yes, we want to maintain social distance and do not need to tell our life stories to each other, yet how do we truly connect with another? As oncology nurses, we connect all the time with patients—as attentive listeners, as reflective questioners, as astute problem solvers. We listen with our ears, eyes, and brains to discern how to best support our patients and families. We often may not know what they do outside of our clinical setting, yet we wonder how they live outside of the patient role, because how they live, where they live, with whom they live, and what they believe and practice may positively or negatively influence healthcare outcomes.
Donna Diers, in her book, Speaking of Nursing...Narratives of Practice, Research, Policy and the Profession,” writes about how others respond when we introduce ourselves at a social gathering or in a public situation (e.g., on an airplane):1
“Oh, really, how nice. Excuse me, I need another drink.”
A rambling story about the other person’s experience with hospitals, surgery, birthing, or an aged parent.
A random pass, as if one were automatically an available, experienced sexual partner.
”Oh, I could never do that, all those bedpans and blood and all” (Diers, 2004, p. 156). The two responses I have heard the most, though, as an oncology nurse are:
”Oh, that must be so depressing.”
”You have got to be an angel.”
I’m sure you readers have many other examples!
So as we enter the holiday season and anticipate the social situations in which we find ourselves, let’s think about how we would like to be introduced. What would we like others to know about us, as oncology nurses, as women or men living our lives and working in our field of oncology? And how will we respond when someone remarks as above?
In this process, perhaps we can also take some time to reflect on what our patients and families want us to know about them, and how we might compose the best questions to know them better. What is really important for us to know in order to help our patients achieve the best possible health outcomes? Let’s continue this conversation.
Diers D. Speaking of Nursing…Narratives of Practice, Research, Policy and the Profession. First Edition.
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