Becoming Too Attached to Your Patients

An oncology nurse writes about caring too much and generates dozens of responses.

An oncology nurse writes about caring too much and generates dozens of responses.

Oncology nurse Theresa Brown was the focus of a health section column that ran in the February 4th edition of the New York Times. She described her attachment to one patient in particular, a patient who was declining and beginning his "slow embrace to death." Theresa wrote that "This is what it means to be a nurse in oncology, a no-win situation where compassion routinely gets hijacked by grief."

One of Theresa's nurse colleagues told her that nurses get too attached to their patients. But is this a bad thing to do? Without that attachment, what kind of care would nurses provide? Probably very impersonal care at best.

Attachment is a good thing, according to the dozens of people who posted a response to what Theresa wrote. Many of the comments were from patients, who wrote of their gratitude for nurses like Theresa. A number of people wrote that if they ever become ill, they'd want a nurse like Theresa. One person wrote that attachment is a skill set and thanked Theresa for displaying herself fully as a human being. A recurring theme among the posts was that Theresa should never change, that she should keep doing what she's been doing.

In one of the posts, a nurse wrote about her own experiences, saying that nurses and patients and their families bond and become close. She described it as "life stripped bare except for its deep essentials — love, regret, caring, comfort, death." Another recurring comment was that nurses are the unsung heroes in health care and as one person wrote, "oh my gosh, an article in the New York Times recognizing and discussing the work of nurses!"

Nurses rarely receive any type of media attention. It's nice to see that Theresa has been recognized for her care and compassion and that people have taken notice and posted responses online. Compassion is what brings many people into nursing, and keeps them there.

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