Chronicles of a Nurse

Nursing graduate Xyla de Vera talks about the joys and pains of working with mentally ill patients.
by Xyla de Vera   |  Mar 30, 2010
photo courtesy of Xyla de Vera
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I admit that in the beginning, I was one of those people who took up nursing for monetary reasons. I never expected that every hospital duty or community immersion would teach me a lesson that neither a medical-surgical nursing book nor a nurse's pocket dictionary could explain. But when we had our clinical exposure at the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) as part of our training in Psychiatric Nursing, I saw my chosen field in a new light.

When I learned that we would be having our duty at NCMH for a couple of days, I was a bit anxious. I always thought mentally ill patients were scary and aggressive. During our orientation on the first day, my group mates and I clung tightly to each other because we were afraid the patients would attack us. Later on though, we realized it was perfectly safe because the patients were under control. There was even one patient who approached us and welcomed us to the institute by dancing in a peculiar way and repeatedly saying, "Hello! Ako si Nena*. Ikaw? Anong pangalan mo?"

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Communicating with mentally ill patients was the hardest thing I had to do as a nurse. I had to be cautious with my nonverbal expressions because the patients could misinterpret them. I found it amusing to talk to them because they usually gave comical answers. One patient said he was admitted to NCMH because he burned his house down, and when I asked why, he told me it was too old and needed to be renovated. He even added that he came from heaven and was kicked out because he was a rebel angel!

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On the other hand, we also received emotional answers, especially when we talked about their families. I was angry when I learned that some of their family members were ashamed of them and abandoned them instead of giving them love and support. Hearing their sad stories made me want to cry right then and there.

What I enjoyed most in our training at NCMH was conducting different therapies. We had dance, song, art, occupational, play, motivational, and newspaper therapies. The patients were childlike, almost like pre-schoolers. We also provided them with snacks and I was so surprised when I saw them enjoying the food. To me, it was just a simple sandwich, but looking at them, it seemed like they were dining at an extravagant party. I was so moved that I had to look up to keep my tears from falling.

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The whole experience made me realize how lucky and blessed I am. I admit, I was once a materialistic person and I used to complain about many things in my life. But after working at NCMH, I learned to be thankful for what I had, to value my family and friends, and to be closer to God. I also realized that these mentally ill patients were humans with feelings too. They deserved all the love and care we could give. They needed to be valued rather than ignored.

I never expected that the people whom we usually label insane, psycho, lunatic, or flip could teach me a very important lesson. They unconsciously molded me into a better person and a dedicated nurse-a nurse who wasn't simply after a big salary, but one who would always put her patient's needs first.

*Name has been changed

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Xyla de Vera
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