Judie Boehmer

Let them know how much you care

Judie tells two amazing stories that transformed her nursing practice and showed her how to look at the person as a whole, not just as a task.

portrait of Judie Boehmer, nurse at UC Davis Health


Anyway. So I have two stories, patient stories that were just remarkable for me, about culture, and patient identity, and what it means to really care for someone, and develop that relationship. And when I first came here, I had been here for six months and they were looking for nurses that would participate in care for patients. If you can believe this, they asked us, would you be willing to care for patients that were having gender alternating surgeries? They asked us. It wasn't like, this is just like another patient, like we would today. It'd be no big deal. They come in. And of course I signed up for that because I was like, "I'm all about that. I have no idea what this is about."

I want to learn and I want to help people and save the world. Make everybody happy. So I cared for a woman that came in that had decided she wanted to be a woman. She was born a male, and decided that she wanted to be a female. And it was, I mean, the surgery was absolutely incredible, of what they did for reconstruction and everything, and the hormones, the individuals on, and talk about estrogen. And all of that, I learned very quickly at 21, what estrogen does to someone. And it was incredible to see this human being, because we kept in touch with her, Tina for many, many years, on how her happiness just evolved after the surgery. It was amazing. And so we continued to do a few other surgeries too, but I felt that, I had a lot of interpretation with it. I had a lot of opinions even being at 21 on it. Is this you're craziness, or what are we doing?

You're going in for surgery that you don't have to have. And you don't want to be a boy? And what's going on here, and stuff. Incredible. It changed how I felt. And that was back in the nineties. And so I look how far we have come today with that. And now we are so respectful of it. Not that we weren't before, but we were so incredibly biased, and sheltered, from not understanding. And I say sheltered because I don't want to fault anybody for their feelings and how they felt. The second one that I had, this is my very favorite patient story is I had the honor of taking care of gentlemen who only spoke Punjabi, who lost both his eyes to... Literally they were taken out. He had an enucleation to a diabetic fungal infection.

Very serious. And again, this was back in the nineties and we didn't have the big antibiotics to hit it with or anything like that. And he was from Marysville, and had a lovely family. And back then we were on eight hour shifts. So I had the opportunity to really get to know him. I was his day shift nurse, family would be here. I'd eat with them, all kinds of different things that I had never ate before, and learned about their culture from them. But as any new nurse, I was so incredibly focused on my tasks. I got to get his dressing done. I got to get his IV done. I got to do his teaching. I got to do this. I got to, got to, got to. Forgetting about what is sitting in front of me is an individual that I walk in the room and all he hears is a voice.

He's just lost his vision. He doesn't understand English. He can't speak English. And he has a family to care for. And one day he said to his son, and we were traveling back and forth to the hyperbaric oxygen chamber to help the tissue heal, because we would take the dressings out of the eye sockets. Remember how many Kerlix rolls we stuffed in the eye sockets, and charted it so that we got them all pulled out. So nothing was left or retained in his eye sockets. And it was incredibly intriguing.

And I thought to myself, one day when his son said to me, his dad took the son's hand and grabbed the son's hand and said one word. And I was like, something's wrong. And I thought, gosh, is he in pain? Is he not feeling well or anything like that? And then him and his son started to dialogue together and his son grabbed my arm and said, "My dad wants to know what you look like."

And I thought to myself, shame on me that I didn't think about that. Someone that doesn't have eyes, doesn't understand me. They have no idea who the heck I am caring for them. Let alone am I competent? But think about when someone's caring for you, how much you look at when they walk in the room. And you're like, I feel so much better. I see my nurse. She looks like she likes me. She looks well put together. She's confident. He had none of that for a long time. I'd never said anything. So he literally, literally stopped me in my tracks. And I said, "We're going to wait before we go today." And so I took his hands and I told his son, I said, "I want him to see how tall I am, how big I am, how long my hair is."

And of course I had the nineties perm down to the waist. And I did that. And he couldn't cry because he had no eyes and he had no tear ducts. And his face, he just was like, almost lost control because this was the first time he had had a chance to figure out how do I know who's next to me? And so to me, that was another lesson in culture. And relationships, in that you have to really work with people to find out what works for them, and how they can relate to you.

I knew how I could relate to him, but I didn't think about how he could relate to me. And so I always tell people, look at the person wholly, don't just look at it as a task. Look at them and see what do you need to do to meet their needs? And really you need to meet the basic needs. It isn't rocket science.

Yeah. It isn't the IVs you're hanging. You can't cure everyone, but you can certainly develop a relationship with them, and let them know how much you care, just by stopping and letting them see you as a person.