A patient told me “They made me put my socks on with a stick,” and what happened next changed my life forever.
I find it interesting how the most grumpy, disgruntled people react to kind gestures. It’s been my experience that usually someone with an attitude has a pretty good reason for it. There are the occasional unhappy people who are just rude and condescending for no reason. But usually, I find there is some sort of root cause for most meanness
I’ve experienced in my nursing practice.
The Grumpiest Patient I’ve Ever Had
I once took care of a lady, in her 80s, who I was almost sure I would never be able to please. Despite meeting her every request, promptly, she never said thank you and complained about everything. She talked the entire time I was in her room, and every word that came out of her mouth was negative. When I asked her how her night was she told me how she hadn’t slept at all, was in pain the whole time, and she was just miserable. I knew that wasn’t so, I had been in there at least 20 times that night, and she was sleeping most of the night.
She had a hip fracture repair a little while before this particular admission, and that seemed to be the only problem she was concerned with. In fact, I cannot even remember what she was there for on this admit. Her every complaint was about this surgery, her back, the cold, or anything else, except what her actual admission was.
At some point during the 2nd evening of her admission, I removed her socks to place some TED hose that I noticed were ordered. Her feet were dry, peeling, and looked downright terrible. I asked her if they hurt, and she said yes. I touched her skin and the dead skin flaked off. I peeled a large piece of skin off her heel. She said she didn’t even feel it. I decided I needed to lotion her feet at the very least.
They Made Me Put My Socks on With a Stick
I then decided that this simply wouldn’t be enough, and she needed a full-on foot washing. Her eyes appeared as big as saucers as I warmed the water, soaped the wash cloths, and scrubbed her heels, toes, nails, and various cracks and creases in her skin. “You know, they made me put my socks on with a stick,” she said. I continued to wash her feet, first the left, then the right. I listened and responded with attention and concern.”They just stood there and watched me struggled. None of them ever washed my feet” she continued to tell me about her rehab experience.
I understood why they did this. I knew she had to be able to do it for herself to be discharged from the facility. However, she continued to tell me how embarrassed she was of how bad her feet looked, how concerned she was about them, and how she just couldn’t believe I was taking the time to wash her feet. I finished washing her feet, and the pink, bright new skin looked as fresh as a 20-year old’s, and I can’t even remember seeing one wrinkle on those freshly lathered and lotioned feet.
It was as if the simple act of washing her feet had removed all the age and pain that had built up over the years. Her feet no longer looked angry. They looked peaceful.
“Thank you,” she said. “No one has ever done that for me before.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, as I assisted her in repositioning in the bed. I placed her call light beside her, tucked her in the covers, and helped her adjust the bed to just the right position.
Walking to the door, I asked her, just like I do every patient: “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No ma’am, you did more than anyone has.”
She slept soundly for the rest of the night. After that, every encounter I had with her was pleasant.
The Significance of Washing Her Feet
It wasn’t until some months after this event that I realized the significance of washing her feet. When Mary Magdalene washed the feet of Jesus, it showed how powerful a small act can be to the right person. It reminded me that nursing, in some small way, is in line with these selfless work that Christ taught.
We can change someone’s life, their perspective, and self-worth with one small compassionate act. Never discount the power you hold as a nurse. An act of kindness and compassion, no matter how small, can make the single greatest impact on a patient’s life.
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This was a defining moment in my nursing career. It reminded me that the quality of life is more important than the quantity of life. It helped me learn never to take putting my socks on or washing my feet for granted.
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