Many people who check into a hospital psychiatric unit expect the doctors and nurses to change their lives, and to make all of their problems disappear. Somehow they’ve gotten the idea that we all have a magic wand in our back pocket and that by waving it, we can make their troubles go away. While it’s true that we offer them hope through the use of medications and talk therapy, there are some things that just cannot be fixed.

I have many patients who are admitted to the unit because he or she finds out that their partner is cheating on them. I’m not going to bash one gender over the other. Men and women are equal opportunity adulterers. The circumstances are different, but the result is always the same. Trust is broken and the patient is devastated. Many patients focus on their partner, and want us to fix their mate. I understand why they do this. It’s easier to focus on someone else than it is to face the fact that a relationship is over. They may also blame themselves for the failure of their relationship. I can’t tell you how many times I feel like I’m listening to an episode of the Jerry Springer Show. I hear, “But I love him/her. I can’t live without him/her.” Sometimes I have to work really hard at not being judgmental. After all, it’s not my life going up in flames, but it’s hard to watch someone pine over a cheater.

Patients always ask me for advice. They trust nurses, and they think that we are wise, but I can’t give them advice. It’s my job to get my patients to focus on themselves, and to give them the tools so they can make their own decisions. Sometimes my patients decide to get a divorce, and sometimes they don’t. I have to bite my tongue when a patient decides to take back someone that will hurt them again. I know it bothers the other nurses, too. We joke about having job security, but we’re not heartless. Nurses aren’t angels of mercy, we’re people, and that’s how we cope with what we see at work. I wish I had a magic wand so I could make patients understand that there is no cure for a cheating heart. Sometimes, it’s just best to walk away.