Clinical placements

An insight into the hidden battles of patients with invisible illnesses

When nursing student Laurie Batchelor helped care for a patient in the community with cancer, she gained a greater understanding of the experiences of those living with invisible conditions

When nursing student Laurie Batchelor helped care for a patient in the community with cancer, she gained a greater understanding of the experiences of those living with invisible conditions


Picture: Alamy

During the second year of my nurse training I attended a lecture on invisible illnesses.

From cancer and heart disease to arthritis and depression, many long-term conditions are classed as invisible illnesses, affecting patients’ daily activities and quality of life.

As I listened to the lecturer, I thought about the patients I had met on clinical placements and the personal battles they may have been facing without showing symptoms.

This reminded me why it is so important that the care we provide to patients is supportive and personalised, taking into account the unique aspects of each patient or service user.

Normal and imagined pain

I thought of this lecture when on a community placement, where one of the patients I helped care for was a woman in her mid-forties, who I will call Mrs Smith.

Mrs Smith had recently undergone a mastectomy following a diagnosis of breast cancer. She had a family history of the disease, and had been having regular check-ups prior to her diagnosis.

She also had anxiety, which she said had worsened during her treatment. As well as worrying about her general health she was having to wear a wig, which was affecting her self-esteem, and she was concerned whether the pain she felt was normal or a figment of her imagination.

Mrs Smith had a chest drain inserted after her operation, and the nurse I was working with was preparing to remove it as her treatment was almost finished.

Acting confidently

I had observed chest drain removal on previous placements but had not undertaken it myself, so when my mentor asked if I would like to remove the drain under supervision I felt slightly nervous, especially as I was mindful of Mrs Smith’s anxiety issues.

After asking Mrs Smith and her husband if they were happy for me to do this, they agreed to me carrying out the procedure and I set up the equipment.

Although nervous, I was aware that Mrs Smith would be feeling more anxious than me, so tried to act confidently to promote a comfortable, safe atmosphere. I explained the procedure before I started and kept Mrs Smith informed throughout so she knew exactly what I was doing and why. We then discussed her recovery and what to expect.

Taking the time

When Mrs Smith praised my manner as a nursing student, and told my mentor I had put her at ease, I felt incredibly proud and confident in my ability.

This experience helped to improve my practice as it enabled me to consider what it is like for patients with invisible illnesses. By discussing Mrs Smith’s feelings with her, I gained a greater understanding of the daily emotional battles she faces and the difficulties they can cause her.

I was also reminded that taking the time to talk to patients and listen to their concerns is at the heart of effective communication and person-centred care.


Laurie Batchelor is a second-year nursing student at Keele University in Staffordshire

 

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