To Love the Unlovely: A Nurse’s Story

Deb was named Mentor of the Year during 2012 Nursing Team Week.

Nursing can be a challenging yet equally rewarding career. This is especially true for nurses working in a psychiatric unit, where expressions of anger and aggression aimed at the nursing staff often are more common than words of appreciation.

Early in her career on the adult psychiatric unit at Memorial Medical Center, Deb Edmonson, BSN, RN-BC, discovered through a difficult patient’s experience that she had the patience and understanding for providing unconditional care and support to patients who needed her at their most vulnerable moments.

Michael was a 40-year-old gentleman, admitted for violent and aggressive behavior from a combination of a violent upbringing, previous drug and alcohol abuse, and dementia symptoms from a degenerative, incurable brain disease. He was also dealing with other complicating factors, including end-stage renal disease and congestive heart failure. Nobody else would take him.

By the time he came to us, Michael was unable to do many basic things, such as walk or eat without help. After my first few hours of caring for him, I had been cussed at, spit at, pushed and punched. It was obvious normal procedures would not help Michael. He needed a customized plan for his care. It was important to me that Michael be treated as a person, not the violent client he was on paper.

Over time, Michael and I developed a trusting relationship, and our dedicated staff learned how to best work with him to reduce his agitation. We developed a list of his favorite foods and got him a radio and CD to listen to his favorite music. We even found the one person he still called a friend and helped him establish a correspondence with her. Our unit had created a team with Michael in the center.

Perhaps most importantly, Michael was treated with genuine compassion and respect. I frequently repeated to him, ‘Michael, we care very much for you here’ and ‘you are truly special to us.’ Soon, his spitting and name calling turned into ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m sorry.’

Despite his unlovely and violent past, Michael died knowing someone loved him. To this day, we still talk about Michael on our unit — not about his aggression, but how much we all came together for him and made a difference in his final few months.

Eight years later, I maintain the same ideals and values for my patients that I did with Michael – and so does the nurse standing on each side of me.  It’s our culture on Psychiatry and there is no other place I would rather work.

Through Michael, I developed the foundation for my personal nursing philosophy. I was there to do what nobody else wanted to do. I was there to ‘love the unlovely.’