Nursing Voices

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cheating Hearts

Many people who check into a hospital psychiatric unit expect the doctors and nurses to change their lives, and to make all of their problems disappear. Somehow they’ve gotten the idea that we all have a magic wand in our back pocket and that by waving it, we can make their troubles go away. While it’s true that we offer them hope through the use of medications and talk therapy, there are some things that just cannot be fixed.

I have many patients who are admitted to the unit because he or she finds out that their partner is cheating on them. I’m not going to bash one gender over the other. Men and women are equal opportunity adulterers. The circumstances are different, but the result is always the same. Trust is broken and the patient is devastated. Many patients focus on their partner, and want us to fix their mate. I understand why they do this. It’s easier to focus on someone else than it is to face the fact that a relationship is over. They may also blame themselves for the failure of their relationship. I can’t tell you how many times I feel like I’m listening to an episode of the Jerry Springer Show. I hear, “But I love him/her. I can’t live without him/her.” Sometimes I have to work really hard at not being judgmental. After all, it’s not my life going up in flames, but it’s hard to watch someone pine over a cheater.

Patients always ask me for advice. They trust nurses, and they think that we are wise, but I can’t give them advice. It’s my job to get my patients to focus on themselves, and to give them the tools so they can make their own decisions. Sometimes my patients decide to get a divorce, and sometimes they don’t. I have to bite my tongue when a patient decides to take back someone that will hurt them again. I know it bothers the other nurses, too. We joke about having job security, but we’re not heartless. Nurses aren’t angels of mercy, we’re people, and that’s how we cope with what we see at work. I wish I had a magic wand so I could make patients understand that there is no cure for a cheating heart. Sometimes, it’s just best to walk away.


Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

I wish I had a magic wand too.

Excellent post and good points -- but I couldn't help but notice that your second paperback -- DIVORCE -- is the "complete and unabridged" edition. I'm guessing that's the mistress in the red dress... with the surprised wife making an entrance -- although it might be interesting the other way around also.

I'm trying to think of what the "abridged" edition might be like.... He has only his wife and no mistress so there's not much story? -- or -- He has only his mistress and the excitement is gone?

4:17 PM  
Blogger Juliette said...

My father went into depression over a year ago when my mother left him for someone else. That was a pretty hard time for him (well, for me too, but not nearly as bad). He went on medication, and we tried to be there for him, but he only got better when he realised she wasn't coming back.
That's when he moved on and found another great girlfriend. He has some scars, but he is healed. Sometimes, the cold hard truth hurts, but it's what really heals.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Pedeety said...

I suffered through a relationship with someone who cheated on me. Twice. Fool me, I went back for more.

The second time I said, No more, and she threatened suicide and so forth.

I myself never ended up so bad off that I wound up in the hospital but I can see how it could lead there. I think perhaps it wouldn't have been such a bad place for her to spend some time, really. She was such a mess (and not just for allowing a gorgeous creature such as myself to get away!).

And as a future nurse who has spent 15 years in the trenches of residential mental health, I can understand how you get somewhat inured and have to protect yourself from the pain of watching your patients wander right back into the path of the oncoming truck. Black humor often conceals a soft heart. I witnessed many of my clients decompensate no matter what anyone tried to do to help them, and it's hard. And now I get to do it at home too....

7:25 PM  
Blogger The Angry Medic said...

Ouch, Pedeety, I feel your pain. Good that you got away in the end (and yes, I pity your ex for letting such a catch go :P)

All of us have these skeletons in our romantic closet that have caused us hurt. The ones that end up in the hospital are the ones that I have greatest sympathy for. It is partially to help these souls that I myself took medicine up. (Yes, I know how naive-med-student that sounds, but it's true.)

It's nice that you feel for these people, Momma Jones.It's sad to see them trapped in their vicious cycles, but c'est la vie...

8:32 PM  
Blogger Cliffie said...

A bit of a differnt slant here, which I hope some will comment upon: I volunteered, playing old songs (they called it music therapy) in the geriatric unit of the local hospital psych ward. I was surprised to at the number of male patients, just because women live longer. I was not privy to what put them there but I related, and was quite touched by some of them because I am a senior. I still wonder what's driving us old guys to the psych ward. Any wise or professional thoughts will be apprecizated

7:35 AM  
Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said...

These novels that you have pictures of sound really passionate, especially 'Unfaithful Wives'.

2:35 PM  
Blogger SQT said...

I didn't realize you dealt with personal issues like this so much. I've never confided so much to nurse. Not that I wouldn't necessarily, it's just never occurred to me to do so.

I've been cheated on once (that I know of) and that pretty much sucks. I left and never looked back but I've had friends who have a harder time making the same kind of break. It's so sad when you're on the outside looking in and you can see what they need to do, but you can't make them stand up for themselves. I've learned to step back, be supportive and not interfere. I don't know what else you can do.

3:04 AM  
Blogger Shrinked Immaculate said...

That is so true to life.....In my pratice as a psychiatrist, often the worst problem I have to face is that of too many expectations. Its important for people to realize that most psychotherapies are commonsense everyday stuff given out in a structured form. No one has a magic wand save yourself...change occurs over a substrate that is already present.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Shrinked Immaculate said...

BTW I love the covers of those novels...esp the woman in the red dress.....worth cheating for....

6:57 AM  
Blogger Bohemian Road Nurse... said...

In home health, since I'm in the patient's home, they frequently feel more relaxed and are able to talk about their most intimate and shattering problems. I will confess here that it's difficult for me, sometimes, because I feel badly for them--and I get choked up and might cry right along with them, which gives me a headache for the rest of the day. Some days it's really hard because it hurts my heart that they're experiencing these problems and that I can't do a dang thing about it--especially end-of-life issues which families frequently face within the geriatric population. (And also, as I get older and more "rickety" myself, when someone tells me about chronic health problems, in the back of my mind I'm sometimes thinking: "Move over, I don't feel so well myself....")

6:33 PM  
Blogger Serial Filler said...

Oh my! And here I thought magic wands were exclusively licensed for the use of fairy godmothers and charismatic clergy!

If I ever have to check in to a psych ward, I hope you are my nurse. You offer something better than a magic wand -- common sense.

Dr. Ursa LOVES you!

12:33 AM  
Blogger Jodie said...

But you know, that's why they're in the psych ward, because they can't cope with life. Either they haven't learned coping skills, or stress has broken them.

It's hard work to develop those coping skills, and it's hard to learn to repair one's broken bits.

I was lucky enough to have a psych job in which I saw patients over the long term. Seeing them in the acute condition and then following them for a year or two afterwards, well, it gives you the long view.

Some do learn to cope. Some appreciate greatly the nurses on the unit and some learned some strength while they were there. You may not be seeing it, but some of your patients will take something home with them that will sustain them over the long term.

I somehow managed to get through my own divorce of a cheating husband; I can easily see how someone with fewer emotional resources would end up in the psych ward.

In fact, I have been known to tell my patients that the only difference between them and me is that I have keys.

12:54 AM  
Blogger Mom of Three said...

When I was 21, I stupidly married my first boyfriend of 5 years. Of course, I was the only one in the world who couldn't see that this could end badly, which, of course, it did, not two years later with a 19 year old named Tiffany.

Being 23 and traded in for a newer model was shocking, but I said all of those same things your patients do.

I think the only thing I could say to someone going through that situation is that I'd been there, and as strange as it seems, it was actually the best thing for me. If they don't listen, at least they'll think you're crazier than them!

5:37 PM  
Blogger poody said...

I could use the magic wand for myself. I am still stinging from the lying cheating rat bastard who broke my heart and I am in therapy because of it but I think it was the proverbial straw that broke this camel's back.

5:58 PM  

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