Monday, March 14, 2016

Changing Labels

If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I am adamant about refraining from labeling people. I've been labeled in my past, with words such as "depressed", "anorexic", and "attention seeker". Those words, those labels were unjustified. Cruel assumptions that people made about me before even knowing who I am or learning about where I've come from.

I think one of the most significant encounters I've had with labels comes from one of my clinical rotations in nursing school. I remember clear as day going to get my patient research and looking at this patients chart. My jaw hit the floor. This individual had 12-14 medical conditions, was on 36 different medications and had a chart thicker than most of my textbooks. I gulped my anxiety down and sifted through this chart, hoping and praying that this wouldn't be the patient that would make me drop out of nursing school.

The next day during report, I listed off my patients to the other staff members and my peers and as I said this patients name, I head a few of the nurses laugh. I overheard their conversation and one of the nurses said:

"Wow. That poor student. That patient is so demented that they doesn't know up from down."

I was terrified. And I had this terrible image of someone lying in a half comatose state in bed, moaning. I built up all of these images in my head of what I was going to deal with and for a moment I was angry at my instructor for sticking me with this patient. All I kept thinking to myself was:

"What am I going to learn?!"

I swallowed my fears and walked into the patients room to do my morning assessment. They were sound asleep in bed, but it didn't take much to wake them up. When the patient opened their eyes I introduced myself and asked 3 key questions:

"What's you name? Where are you? What day/time is it?"

The patient looked at me, confused as they stated their name. I asked  if they knew where they were, and it took them a minute to figure it out. but after some time they accurately stated where they were. However, the patient had absolutely no idea what day it was, or even the year. I groaned as I took their vitals, and trudged out of the room to organize the incredible number of medications my patient needed with breakfast.

The day progressed, and I began to see another side of my patient that the nurses failed to mention. They were funny, quick witted and much more "with it" than I anticipated. At one point in time I had another one of my peers in the room to help me get the patient into their chair for lunch, and as I put the belt around their waist to help them stand up the patient looked at me with this fire in their eye as they said:

"You dirty little girl, trying to make me move and stuff!"

I laughed and realized that this patient was much more than a diagnosis of dementia. Sure they were confused about what time it was or what day it was, but to be fair half of the time I don't even know what day it is!

I stayed with this patient for the entire week, and with each passing day I saw their cognitive status improve. I listened to their stories about their childhood, learned about their children, their spouse who passed away years ago. Granted I don't know if these stories were true or figments of the patients imagination but I shook my head and scolded myself for judging this patient before even getting to know them.

I've been told by my instructors that there is going to be one patient in your career who is going to change the way you look at nursing. I firmly believe that this patient was the one for me. They taught me that patients are so much more than their admitting diagnosis, they are so much more than their file number and their history. Patients have a story, and if you take the time to listen or get to know them, you might just be surprised with what you see! I didn't see this patient as "demented", I saw this patient as someone who just needed a little extra attention, someone who needed to be heard.

When we label people, we cease to see their potential, all we see is the label we placed on them. We neglect to see their qualities, the things that make that person who they are. Labels negate success. Let me ask you, why do we label people? Is it to make ourselves feel better? Is it to hurt others, to segregate? Do we label people subconsciously, or is it a conscious action? Whatever the reason is, stand up with me and stop this growing epidemic. Follow the wise words of Gandhi and "Be the change you wish to see in the world"

- Court


  1. I love that....."labels negate success". So true!!! Great job, Courts!

  2. Great blog post, it offers a challenge to all of us. Sometimes we may think we are helping, by suggesting a "label" to define a character trait someone may have. How careful we must be when choosing our words!

  3. You learned a biggie and told a great story so that we can remember what you learned. The same thing happens to teachers. We just see students rather than an individual and all their individual characteristics.