Learning to Be a Compassionate Patient Advocate

When I was a young nurse doing my first six months of training on the wards, I got to know a patient who had cancer of the esophagus. 

He was in a ward where there were probably six to eight men; they called it the sunroom. This patient had been in the sunroom about two months and he’d developed a very close-knit relationship with all the patients there. The patient was suffering a lot, but he had an incredible network of caring friends looking after him.
 
Unfortunately, his cancer got to the stage where his condition was deteriorating, and the smell was quite unbearable. We used a lot of Nilodor to try to mask the odor. Because people were complaining, we decided to move him into a private room.

The night before we moved him, another nurse and I went to him in the sunroom. In a very kind and loving way, the other nurse said, “We need to move you.”

We told him it was because he looked like he was starting to suffer and we wanted to give him his dignity, his privacy, so he didn’t have to suffer in front of people. We didn’t tell him it was because of the smell. 

He said, “If you move me, I will die.” This frank response startled me but on cue of watching the other nurse we both held his hand and said jovially, “Not tomorrow you won’t. We’ll make sure you’re not lonely in there.” Some of the other men were listening to the conversation and they said, “We’ll come and see you. It will be fine.” 

The next day, we moved him.

He was standing next to a sink in the corridor when I last saw him. He was just looking at me with the saddest eyes. I moved all his stuff into the room, then went and gave lunches to the other patients. I returned to give him his lunch and he wasn’t in his room. I went back down to the sunroom. I couldn’t find him anywhere. I asked everyone where he was, but no one could locate him. I then went into the toilets and found him collapsed there. We tried to resuscitate him, but we couldn’t. 

His dying made me realize how strong the mind is and how breaking his community network had broken the thing that kept him going. 


This experience changed me. It caused me to become very conscious of and receptive to what patients need.

Andrea Leverett Senior Clinical Executive at Vocera

This experience changed me. It caused me to become very conscious of and receptive to what patients need.
I became much more compassionate. I learned to advocate for my patients and to make sure that no matter what the situation, I always listened to the patient. I always made sure that other staff members knew the background of why a patient behaved a certain way. I learned to do the right thing by the patient, not by the system. 

If I had it to do over, I would have proposed a more transitional approach for this patient in which we could have discussed the move more with him, and given him a lot more time to think about it. 

If I had it to do over, maybe I would have found a way to just let him stay in the sunroom. 

Author
Andrea Leverett
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RN
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Senior Clinical Executive, Supporting Clients in Australia and New Zealand
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Andrea-Leverett
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Andrea-Leverett
When I was a young nurse doing my first six months of training on the wards, I got to know a patient who had cancer of the esophagus. 

He was in a ward where there were probably six to eight men; they called it the sunroom. This patient had been in the sunroom about two months and he’d developed a very close-knit relationship with all the patients there. The patient was suffering a lot, but he had an incredible network of caring friends looking after him.
 
Unfortunately, his cancer got to the stage where his condition was deteriorating, and the smell was quite unbearable. We used a lot of Nilodor to try to mask the odor. Because people were complaining, we decided to move him into a private room.

The night before we moved him, another nurse and I went to him in the sunroom. In a very kind and loving way, the other nurse said, “We need to move you.”

We told him it was because he looked like he was starting to suffer and we wanted to give him his dignity, his privacy, so he didn’t have to suffer in front of people. We didn’t tell him it was because of the smell. 

He said, “If you move me, I will die.” This frank response startled me but on cue of watching the other nurse we both held his hand and said jovially, “Not tomorrow you won’t. We’ll make sure you’re not lonely in there.” Some of the other men were listening to the conversation and they said, “We’ll come and see you. It will be fine.” 

The next day, we moved him.

He was standing next to a sink in the corridor when I last saw him. He was just looking at me with the saddest eyes. I moved all his stuff into the room, then went and gave lunches to the other patients. I returned to give him his lunch and he wasn’t in his room. I went back down to the sunroom. I couldn’t find him anywhere. I asked everyone where he was, but no one could locate him. I then went into the toilets and found him collapsed there. We tried to resuscitate him, but we couldn’t. 

His dying made me realize how strong the mind is and how breaking his community network had broken the thing that kept him going. 


This experience changed me. It caused me to become very conscious of and receptive to what patients need.

Andrea Leverett Senior Clinical Executive at Vocera

This experience changed me. It caused me to become very conscious of and receptive to what patients need.
I became much more compassionate. I learned to advocate for my patients and to make sure that no matter what the situation, I always listened to the patient. I always made sure that other staff members knew the background of why a patient behaved a certain way. I learned to do the right thing by the patient, not by the system. 

If I had it to do over, I would have proposed a more transitional approach for this patient in which we could have discussed the move more with him, and given him a lot more time to think about it. 

If I had it to do over, maybe I would have found a way to just let him stay in the sunroom. 

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