Emotional trauma…

Sometimes we experience people in our care that have a similar story, yet their path continues in very different directions…

When I trained as a nurse, we were taught to leave our judgements, emotions, and personal issues at the door when we enter our workplace. We were only permitted to bring our caring and empathetic parts of our self. We were warned about sharing too much of ourselves as that impeded the nurse patient relationship and potentially crossed boundaries of respect and confidentiality. We are now teaching and learning that this doesn’t have to be and that we are able to bring a personable side of ourselves to share experiences with our patients in a bonding and respectful manner. We are only human ya know!


At times we encounter people who are/or experience(ing) similar situations as us, and the ability to cope with patients who don’t know your story is truly a skill that is unique to nursing. There are all kinds of situations that nurses find themselves in that mimics their own personal lives, and a question I often get from nursing students, is how to navigate these kinds of situations.


Many years ago, I was caring for a patient who presented to the ED with seizures. They had fallen and hit their head during one of these episodes and their partner was becoming increasingly concerned about the frequency of the episodes.

During the check in process, the partner made it clear that the patient required a female nurse and potentially a female doctor. Of course, we would attempt to accommodate patients the best we can; however, many hospitals I have worked at only have 1 doctor on staff at a time, and this request is impossible, not because we won’t but because we can’t. In this situation, we were able to ensure a female nurse but not doctor. The reason for the request was related to childhood trauma, which we would soon learn is the “cause” for the seizures.

Hearing this person’s story and the details of the quality of life they were experiencing based on the history of trauma, was emotionally provoking. It really became evident that although their story was not unique in the type or duration of trauma, but the impact on the ability to cope was truly unique. Taking care of this person, brought back for me memories of trauma but what was more impactful was the fact that although the patient and I had similarities in our history, our outcomes in life were incredibly different. I did cry after caring for this person, the tears were not for myself because I have grown, learned, and moved past my issues, the tears were for the patient, as their life somehow did not allow them to have the same healing that I did.

So when nurses are faced to care for people who’s situations mimic things in their own lives, we have a choice, we can either find deep empathy and truly care for the patient or withdrawal into ourselves in an effort to find our own coping.

To answer the question, how we navigate these situations is difficult to answer; however, as nurses we must care for ourselves before we can care for others. Additionally, recognizing what triggers us is important so we can remove ourselves from situations that will cause us emotional harm. I did not run from the above situation because I felt a connection to the patient that can’t be described and caring for them was certainly emotionally draining but I hope what I did that day made a positive impact on the patient.

How do you cope when your patient is going through something that hits home for you? I would love to read your comments!

fullsizeoutput_1e3c Trudi

(person, place, time, and specific details have been removed to protect the patient’s identity, no HIPPA/FIPPA violation intended)


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