When Emma Evans (right) couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night after a bone and muscle-lengthening surgery, the best medicine was a Holland Bloorview nurse who told her funny stories.
“I had very bad heel pain,” Emma, 14, recalls. “I wasn’t sleeping great and I didn’t respond well to high-intensity meds. It was a tricky situation. My nurse Katie Hauer (left) was able to help me calm down and not focus too much on the pain by telling me funny stories about herself and asking me about my interests. This distracted me from difficult pain and, since we knew more about each other, it was easier for me to communicate and feel more comfortable.”
Emma says that nurses who took the time to know her interests and tell her a little about themselves best helped her forget the pain. “Talking about the pain—about where it was and what it felt like—made it worse. It was hard to describe. But if we mixed talking about the medical situation with non-medical conversation and humour, I was able to stay calm and feel better.”
Emma says she liked Katie’s approach because Katie would acknowledge how tough the pain was, but then get her talking about something else.
Katie, who works on the complex-continuing care unit, says the way she connects with each child is different. “You have to figure out what that person needs. Some children might not want to hear silly stories or want to joke around. It can be challenging when you first meet a patient to really find a connection. It takes time and patience and thinking through what each individual needs. I really like working here because you have an opportunity to enter into a really intimate space with a person and you have to bring yourself to it. It has to be authentic, particularly for a teen who will sense it if it isn’t genuine.”
To get to know clients and parents, Katie asks a lot of questions. “I always try to pull the patient out first. Who is this person? What is their sense of humour? What do they like to do? What are they comfortable with or not comfortable with?”
Talking with parents about their unique expectations is important, Katie says. “Everyone is so different. Some parents want to do as much as they can for their child and don’t necessarily require as much support as others. I like to say: ‘How can I support you? What are your needs?’”
Katie says nurses and parents need to work as partners. “It’s so important to work together. There has to be a mutual understanding of each of our roles, and how we can best support the child together. Grace needs to flow both ways between parents and nurses.”
Emma says that sometimes it can be challenging to feel comfortable with your medical team when there’s so little time for non-medical interactions. “That’s why I feel it’s important to spend time talking to the patient about their interests and, if you’re comfortable, to share a bit about yourself.”
Creating relationships “is the biggest part of how I care and nurse,” Katie says. “Relationships need to be valued and honoured. When Emma was in a lot of pain, I could have met all of the standards as a nurse by giving her the prescribed interventions, like pain medications. But I needed to take more time to figure out how to relate to Emma in the midst of what she was experiencing. I have always appreciated the power of stories—how therapeutic they can be, and how they help us relate to one another in very real ways. With Emma, it was simple: I was 14 once and thought about what would have helped me if I was in her shoes.”
Emma says that even when nurses do medical tasks with her like taking vital signs or changing bandages, “using humour, stories or conversation makes the situation better and more fun for everyone.”
During her most difficult times, “Katie’s humour was the best strategy that worked for me,” Emma says.