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Is it ever appropriate to share your own experiences with a patient?

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When Helen’s patient’s experience mirrored her own father’s, she was torn as to how much was OK to share.

Helen Reeves-SNT

It was my 2nd day with the district nurses.

As a learning disabilities student nurse, I was already feeling out of my comfort zone and now I found myself standing awkwardly in the middle of a stranger’s house about to observe a dressing change.

General chit chat built up and it turned out this lady had COPD and was not doing too good. She had been advised to visit a local hospice for day services and she was terrified, obviously most people are when they hear the word ‘hospice’.

This was where I had no idea how to respond.

I didn’t have an issue with how to respond because of sympathy for the lady, or shock that this person who seemed quite lively was actually in quite a bad way. My problem came with now knowing how much of myself I could give away to this person.

I questionned how much I could respond with, as opposed to what could I respond with.

This is because eight weeks before starting my nursing degree, my dad died.

It had been a 12 month battle with cancer and he had attended that same hospice just months before this conversation happened, he’d even attended the day services. We probably had exactly the same views as this lady just weeks before – he was going into this place, full of doom and gloom, and leaving in a box. This was far from the truth but you know how it is.

The word ‘hospice’ usually makes you think that it’s somewhere you’re going to die.

Just before I went out onto placement we had had sessions to prepare us for practice. It was drilled into us that we must keep work life and private life separate. We were told that our mentors would be working so closely with us that we mustn’t share too much with them so not to change their opinion of ourselves. This clearly also related to patients.

So here lay my issue. Do I share one of the most difficult, traumatic and also quite recent experiences of my life to this complete stranger and help ease her worry? Or do I keep quiet and allow her to continue to worry about what might happen in a few days time when she has to enter this place herself?

Whatever your opinion may be, I felt that it was in my patient’s best interests to share.

We’re all trained in making judgement calls and being accountable for our actions so this was the route I decided to take.

I didn’t share gory details and I didn’t share what happened or who it was. I told her that I knew someone who had used the services and went into detail of our experiences there. 

And you know what? I think that I helped her, even just a little bit.

I may have twisted some rules about information sharing but I feel that I made the right call that day. We’re all human and we all have experiences – why not use these to benefit someone else?


Helen Reeves is in her 2nd year studying learning disabilities nursing at Keele University

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