A letter to Kathy - from an intensive care nurse

A letter to Kathy - from an intensive care nurse
Every hand that I touch, every glance I meet, the single word that I speak, can have a large impact on the sick person that I take care of
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As a nurse working in intensive care I have moments in which emotions get much deeper than expected.

My own vulnerability is confronting. Do I lose control or do I experience the essence of my job as a nurse?

Kathy, your story on YouTube and your saying “the touch that isn’t effective or that didn’t hurt” made a deep impression on me.

Every hand that I touch, every glance I meet, the single word that I speak, can have a large impact on the sick person that I take care of.

How many times do I really touch this person in a human way,without it being part of my job ? How many times do I really listen? How many times do I really find myself on being ‘in the moment ‘with this sick person who is anxious, or with the spouse who’s feeling sad?

Video credit: Hearts in Healthcare - Dr. Robin Youngson

Full attention

I give you, my intensive care patient, my full attention and I listen when you talk to me about your experiences. You tell me that you see yourself hanging above the neighbouring bed and how you all of a sudden are stuck to the ceiling. The fact that you are hallucinating due to the medication that I just gave you I don’t tell you. I don’t say, because I want you to share your story without explaining this to you in a clinical way.

I listen to your weak voice. You feel trusted to whisper that you’ve just seen your dead father.

That you feel scared to die. You say you’re pulling on the IV lines because you feel captured and abused. In a surrounding you can’t place, in colours that seem to you of abnormal intensity. You tell me about the things that can calm you when you feel restless. In which you have found support, when you have felt down in the past.

I listen, whereby you can relax. And when you feel confused again and start pulling the IV lines, I’m there for you. With much more patience, knowing how to help you.

When you’re feeling down, because of the many weeks you have had to stay in this intensive care unit I arrange a meeting with your dearest quadruped.


I see your troubled husband standing so frail at the edge of your bed. He doesn’t know what to do; hasn’t ever seen his beloved buddy so very ill. He doesn’t dare to touch you. I see so many questions in his eyes but he ignores himself.

He probably thinks that I’m too busy and that all my attention has to be there for you. In the way he’s standing I see he is tired but does want to stay.

But of course he knows like no other person what’s the best for you. He has cared for you since you got sick and you’re attached to him, in the literal and figurative way.

Still, I do take him aside. Away from all the ICU equipment, away from the bed where he has to stay strong. There he speaks to me about his insecurities, about how he has slept miserably in the last weeks; how the two of you met and have been together for 49 years. He cries, he laughs; he is silent and vulnerable. Finally he dares, and I embrace him.

Immense value

Kathy, these moments of real attention and compassion don’t take up much time and they are of enormous value.

In the world of intensive care, based on evidence, when times are hard, gentleness makes the difference.

Thanks for the Dutch English translation Amber Cozzi Nowak

This blog was originally posted on August 21, 2014 on Skipr.nl.

Image credit: Pixabay

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