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The Stories That Never Get Told – Compassion

By: Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN

Compassion and caring at the heart of nursing.

It was too late. I could never speak to him again.

By the time I was notified that my ex-husband was in the ICU with COVID he was already on the ventilator. Only 66 years old, he was fighting both MRSA in his lungs as well as COVID.

I didn’t just feel helpless. I was. There was nothing I could do from 3000 miles away. And what made everything so much more difficult was that I would never be able to say another word…share another thought…or say goodbye to the man who was the father of my two eldest children. There would never be any closure.

I thought of the nurse, knowing she must be overwhelmed.  Not only was she highly skilled as an ICU nurse, but she was also fielding the emotional needs of the extended family and arranging a final visit after he coded.  I waited until after the 10 pm med pass before calling with my request.

“Could you just play “Oh Danny Boy” for him”, I asked, “and tell him….” Only then did the tears erupt choking my words as I cried the rest of the sentence… “tell him it’s from Kathleen, he’ll know.” 

My heart cannot hold all the gratitude I feel for this nurse, and for all nurses. If only the world knew what we actually did. The same hand that titrates a dopamine drip also holds the hand of a dying patient.

There is no other profession that requires that we use so much of both heart and mind; art and science. We are the most trusted profession because of our hearts – but also the most invisible profession because caring is not as respected as science/technology in our society. So because there is no template for a profession that could possibly be both (highly trained critical thinkers and compassionate/caring) the general public does not know what we do.

Nurses, leave your thoughts in the comments: If the world really understood our role, what do you think would change?

Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN, is an internationally recognized patient safety and health culture expert. Kathleen has spoken on leadership, communication, patient safety, and peer relationships to hospital executives and nurse leaders for twenty years.

All of her books come from her passion to understand the stories of nurses.  Her books, “Ending Nurse to Nurse Hostility” and “Speak Your Truth” illuminate our relationships with our peers and physician partners.  She is also co-author of “The Dauntless Nurse” which was written as a communication confidence builder.

Kathleen is also a guest Op Ed writer to the Seattle Times and has been interviewed twice on NPR’s “People’s Pharmacy”. Her Tedx Talk calls for changing our belief system from a hierarchy to equality in order to keep our patients safe – and also explains how disaster thrust her into ‘the best profession ever’.

You can also find more information about Kathleen on her websiteTwitter, and Facebook


The views and opinions expressed by My Nurse Influencer contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

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