Yale nursing school students win awards for sharing poignant patient stories

Left to right, Yale School of Nursing students Jessica Kelly-Hauser, Elizabeth Renker and Chimene Diomi with professor Linda Honan at the Yale School of Nursing in Orange.

Left to right, Yale School of Nursing students Jessica Kelly-Hauser, Elizabeth Renker and Chimene Diomi with professor Linda Honan at the Yale School of Nursing in Orange.

ORANGE >> Professor Linda Honan says she is “haunted” by the memories of patients she has cared for and wants her students at the Yale School of Nursing to remember theirs as well.

So for about 20 years, Honan has asked her students to keep a journal of their experiences, to write when they have “restless dreams” or thoughts about their patients that just won’t go away.

“I wanted them to leave breadcrumbs of their experiences,” she said. Reading them later, “you are automatically transported back to that room.”

Honan’s students, who are studying to be advanced practice registered nurses or nurse-midwives, have all received degrees in unrelated fields. The three-year program, Graduate Entry Prespecialty in Nursing, is “not only intellectually rigorous, it is emotionally rigorous and we put them into situations that would be intimate among lovers, much less strangers,” she said.

“I wanted them … first, to be thoughtful and reflective about the care they provide. They’re not empty vessels that it is my job to fill.”

The journals are not an assigned part of the curriculum, but students who choose to write are encouraged to submit a sample for the Griswold Home Care Creative Writing Awards, created by Honan. Three winners are chosen each year.

“I wanted the public to see what the profession is, but I also wanted the patients to see the impact [they] have on us,” Honan said.

This year’s winners, who each will receive a $1,000 prize, are Chimene Diomi, who will graduate in May as a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner; Jessica Kelly-Hauser, a second-year student specializing in acute care; and Elizabeth Renker, who will graduate as a pediatric nurse practitioner in 2019. Author and cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson will be the keynote speaker when the awards are presented April 27 at the New Haven Country Club in Hamden.

Chimene Diomi, Upper Marlboro, Maryland

“My story is more looking along the lines of vulnerability, stigma, culture — bridging the gap between cultural differences and basically looking at how clinicians or nurses could do a better job of inspiring and empowering their patients,” said Diomi, who immigrated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo at age 12.

Diomi’s entry was about a 15-year-old girl and Diomi’s efforts to break through the wall of silence erected by the African-American girl, who had selective mutism. “The patient was a mirror image of myself,” Diomi said. “I’m so used to ingesting everyone else’s problems on a daily basis.”

She said she looked at the girl’s medical chart and found nothing positive recorded. “So I wanted to focus on being mindful of what we say and write about our patients because they carry it from place to place.”

Eventually, by offering the girl Snickers bars and modeling clay, she brought out the pain the girl was keeping in, holding her as her patient sobbed, “letting out a cry that sent shivers through every increment of my body,” Diomi wrote. “As I transferred her pain onto me, I remind her of her strength.”

Diomi said the experience “was liberating. I come from a culture where these topics are not discussed so I think my words could reach to someone else and inspire them to overcome or spread awareness.”

Jessica Kelly-Hauser, Holliston, Mass.

Addressed to “Mrs. B,” Kelly-Hauser’s piece took a more concrete approach, numbering the “lessons” she learned while performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation for the first time in an unsuccessful effort to save Mrs. B’s life.

“You and I never met, but I was the short woman in navy blue scrubs who compressed your chest until her scrawny arms almost gave out,” Kelly-Hauser wrote. “For 51 minutes we tried to save your life; they were the longest 51 minutes of mine.”

“It was nothing like I expected it to be,” she said. “It was physically exhausting almost instantaneously. It was a little violent; it was a little numbing. I thought it would be emotional while I was doing it, but it was mechanical, at least for me.”

Kelly-Hauser said it wasn’t until she went home for lunch that the emotions hit. “I started crying and I started writing this as I was crying,” she said.

“I wanted to write the piece to the woman because in this moment, in this experience, she was the person who taught me the various things I realized I’d learned during that day.

“She was the person I was talking to, to thank her, and I had never met her … but I had very intimately been involved with her body. It was just strange,” Kelly-Hauser said. She said writing about the experience brought closure to an otherwise “traumatic” experience.

Elizabeth Renker, Cheshire

Renker wrote about a middle-aged patient who asked her for a shave, and how she had to keep putting him off because of having to clean him after multiple bowel movements, which were increasingly painful. The man, who had been in a crash while on his moped, was “medically complex,” with multiple fractures and other issues.

“We continue this cycle for hours, Mr. David and I. I clean him, apologizing profusely for the pain I cause, and he thanks me for being kind, for taking good care of him, for wetting his lips,” Renker wrote. Finally, as her shift is ending, she is able to give the man a shave.

“I think for me it felt like it embodied everything nursing is: care of the patients, medicine, cleaning, but also emotional needs,” Renker said. “Mr. David’s” desire for a shave “was one thing he could hold onto that was part of his identity and his dignity,” Renker said.

“Afterwards, in the midst of the chaos, being able to give him that one request, to shave his face, made a huge difference to him.

“Nursing in general can be very intense emotionally and writing really provides a way to process everything you’ve dealt with in that day or that week. … The writing is very cathartic.”

Call Ed Stannard at 203-680-9382.