Never Forget: It’s the Simple Things that Count 

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Joan Devine

Joan Devine
Director of Education, Pioneer Network

As we face so many challenges — workforce, regulatory compliance, and budgetary demands to name a few, I think that sometimes we need to remind ourselves that often success — as well as the satisfaction of a job well done — comes in the form of small steps, of simple acts of kindness and in remembering to put the person before the task.

Although it has been over 30 years now I will never forget the valuable lesson I learned as a young nurse about the value of simple things. I was working evenings on an orthopedic unit, and one of my patients, a woman named Dorothy, was recuperating from hip replacement surgery. This was back in the days when a hospital stay for a hip replacement was a week to ten days, and Dorothy was toward the end of her stay. When I asked her what she needed that evening, all she wanted was to have her hair washed. Not the dry shampoo, wash in bed technique I had been taught in nursing school, but a real shampoo, with lots of warm, running water flowing over her head.

And so, I went on a mission to find a way to make this happen. I was able to find a basin in a therapy gym that would work, allowing me to wash Dorothy’s hair without compromising her new hip, and Dorothy got a real shampoo that night.

A few days later, Dorothy was scheduled to go home, and as fate would have it, I was working days and was assigned as her nurse.  As I was preparing her for discharge, Dorothy presented me with a gift.  It was a small bell with the inscription “World’s Greatest Nurse.”

When I got home from work that day, I was showing the bell to my daughters, who at the time were 6 and 7 years old. They admired the bell, and then one of them looked at me and said “Mom, you know you aren’t the world’s greatest nurse, she just THINKS you are!”

Wisdom out of the mouths of babes! Of course, I knew she was right, I’m not the world’s greatest nurse, but then, is being the greatest really what it’s all about? The truth is, I made a difference to Dorothy not because of my great technical skills as a nurse, but because of a simple act of kindness — I washed her hair! Dorothy knew I cared, and that’s what mattered to her. I put person before task — I cared for Dorothy the person, not just the patient with the hip replacement.

And it’s not just about the simple things we do for those we care for, it’s also what we do for each other.  It was the chief nursing officer in that same hospital, Sandra Shelley, who demonstrated that to me.  On my weekend off, I had gotten a desperate call from the staffing coordinator asking me if I could fill a vacant shift, and truth is, we had just made a major purchase and so I agreed to come in and work the shift.

The next week, I received a handwritten thank you note from Sandra Shelly. Let me tell you, THAT made an impression. She had cared enough to know about how the weekend had gone and learned about my contribution — and she appreciated it. She took the time to personally thank me. Wow, that made a difference, not only at the time, but it is something I never forgot when I became a manager — how it felt to be appreciated for simple things, like picking up a shift, and how important it is that I always pay forward the simple act of gratitude.

I know that my stories are not unique in the world of health care, and definitely not in this world of Elder care. Care Partners everywhere are doing simple acts of kindness and showing gratitude to each other every day. Sometimes we fail to realize the impact that those simple things can have on others – and on ourselves. We should never forget the difference we can make when we practice small acts of kindness and do it regularly.

As we look for answers to the challenges we face each day, we know that there are major, systemic changes that need to occur. But as we are working on the big fixes, let’s not forget the impact that the small things have every day.

Won’t you share a story of a simple act of kindness that you experienced that has made a difference in your life or career?