A Therapeutic Sighting: LA Diner

While in Los Angeles for the 2012 ANCC Magnet® Conference, Mary and I stopped at a diner in downtown LA. It was one of those open-24-hour dives with a “We Never Close” sign in the window, and it was packed with an improbable cross-section of humanity, from homeless people to people in dresses and suits.

We were only there for a moment when in walked a group of nurses. We could see by their badges that they were attending our same conference. The next thing we know, one of them is kneeling down next to two grizzled old men at an adjacent table, and she was absolutely engaged with both of them. It was clear that in that moment she was seeing them as the two most important people on the planet. We were touched by the sight of the three of them and the opportunity to witness the utter presence and attunement of this remarkable nurse.

I later went over to her and told her that I wished I had a photo of that moment for the books Mary and I write and the presentations and work we do on therapeutic presence and attunement. She told me she had learned that the two men were regulars at the café; they’d been coming there for 50 years. One of the men began talking to her about his wife’s struggle with cancer. The nurse said she wasn’t sure why she knelt down next to the table of these men, but she’d had the thought that maybe no one had smiled at them today.

What struck us most is that the whole conference we were attending was about care, and yet we saw the best care anywhere in that diner between one off-duty nurse and two complete strangers who, just maybe, needed a smile today.

~ Michael Trout

“Difficult” Patients

The following article is reproduced from the October 22, 2012 issue of the Weekly Healing with Heart Reflections Newsletter, with permission from Martin Helldorfer and Moss Communications.


While I was facilitating a workshop in San Antonio, Texas, I heard a nurse voice what I thought was a pivotal insight for those of us who care for patients. She was someone known for her knack of understanding how to deal with difficult patients. “Is there a secret in how you do it?” someone asked. “No,” she responded, “all I do is remember that I always see patients at their worst, never their best.”

When she was asked to explain, she said (and I paraphrase):

“Think about it. We only see people when they are hurting. They’ve fallen down stairs, tripped on a rock, had an operation, are in pain, have had their futures changed by illness, have stroked, are about to lose a loved one, or are nauseous. Only patients who are delighting in their newborn are feeling good about themselves, and even among those patients there are some who are struggling. Like I mentioned, we don’t see patients at their best, we see them at their worst.”

Then she added, “When I meet a difficult patient, I try to remember that this person has a better self that I don’t see and will likely never see. Realizing that awakens my warmth, which really does influence the way I work.”

After a moment of quiet where we were absorbing the meaning of her words, she added. “I guess there is a secret. We always have to remember that we are here for patients, not ourselves. Sure there are rewards, but you can’t be looking for them. You’ve got to have enough presence of mind to keep your focus on the needs of patients. If difficult patients bother you, you’re in the wrong profession!”

Her thoughts got me thinking about myself as well as those with whom I work. When we are rested and feeling okay about ourselves, warmth is awakened and caring for others is welcomed. The problem comes when we have lost perspective or are overwhelmed. Is there a more compelling reason to care for ourselves—mind, body, and spirit—than that we have the professional responsibility to care for others?

by Martin C. Helldorfer    www.mosscommunications.net