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How a Conversation With My 'Grumpy' Nurse Changed How I See People

I love the start of a new month. It’s like a new chapter of a book. It’s in many regards a blank canvas.

We might have some idea of what we’ll be doing in terms of work, appointments, planned events etc., but there are also many unknowns. Things we can’t anticipate or see, especially when living with chronic illness. I find, illness aside, the unexpected a little exciting. I look forward to every new month with anticipation. I always hope that something special, no matter how small, may happen.

Yes, OK, I am a glass half full kind of girl – but stay with me.

As I was musing about the things we can’t see ahead, I started thinking about many of the conversations on chronic illness support forums. One of our strongest themes is the desire of people with chronic illness, especially invisible illness, to be understood and believed. The conversations are often about how others, who we deem as “healthy,” have no idea of the pain someone with chronic illness deals with on a daily basis. Story after story highlights how invisible illness can so easily lead to misconceptions and hurtful misunderstandings.

In some cases we are probably right that others don’t understand what they haven’t experienced themselves, but are they being cruel for no “apparent” reason?

Let’s for a moment flip that thought on its head.

What if the grumpy person behind the coffee counter questioning why you don’t work or the person complaining that they wish they could lie in every morning like you do, actually were in pain too?

What if their pain was also invisible and they felt no one cared or understood them?

What if they were struggling with depression and grief over the loss of a loved one,or chronic fatigue?

What if they were undiagnosed and no one believed them and they felt resentment when they see others who were acknowledged for their struggles and pain?

What if they were experiencing domestic violence and felt helpless and hopeless? What if they were being harassed at work?

Every life, every person has their own story. It’s never simple. Even when people appear to have everything and have it all together, there will still be layers of untold stories.

I had a terrible grumpy nurse during one of my hospital stays. She felt more like a prison warden and she actually scared me. She was often on night duty, which made her seem scarier somehow.

On day three of my hospital stay, I decided I needed to stop being so anxious about her being on duty. That night she came into my ward in her gruff manner. She was taking my vitals and I decided to ask her how her day had been. I got a grunt type answer. I persevered and asked if she enjoy nursing. Well, that opened up her life story.

She loved nursing but she had just broken up with her husband. She was grieving so much. Her story was a complicated one. She was working double shifts to make ends meet and she was exhausted. I asked simple questions to keep the conversation going and she stayed sitting with me for 30 minutes as we chatted like old friends.

She had also had broken bones like me, but not as a result of a rare disease. She was so upset by my story, she wasn’t sure how to talk to me about my disease and my non-healing bones, which is why she had been so quiet over the previous days.

From that point on she would pop into my room every afternoon before her shift started to say hello and we would chat about how I was. But, more importantly, we’d chat about how she was. My scary prison warden had softened. She still looked a little frightening but she was a scarred, flawed person… just like me, just like you, needing someone to take the time to understand her needs.

If you are faced with animosity or misunderstanding from someone as you go about your daily life, stay calm and think about what might be going on in their lives. Ask them if they are OK.

It’s amazing how conversations between two strangers can evolve, full of genuine understanding, when we decide to turn our focus to caring for the other person.

By simply asking, “Are you OK?” when you feel someone is misunderstanding you, the real story behind the harsh comment might reveal a very real need, not dissimilar from your own.

Follow this journey on Medical Musings With Friends.

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Thinkstock Image By: good_reason08