When a Nurse Is the Patient’s Family

 

Over my years at Ricochet, I’ve been very plain about my choice of career.  It’s my handle.  Most nurses feel similarly; being a nurse isn’t just a job.  It isn’t just a career.  It’s an identity.  Much like the military, nursing school tears you down to rebuild you in the form of a nurse.

We adopt this willingly at first, grudgingly later, then with resignation, then with acceptance, and later, far later, with a touch of regret, perhaps.

It becomes a part of who we are.

I frequently joked to my kiddo and friends that they weren’t allowed to get up to anything adventurous because it was my day off and I didn’t really want to do CPR or patch up bloody people on my day off.

Sometimes people forget that nurses are patients too.  More often than we would like, nurses have a higher rate of chronic illnesses that include hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, chronic pain, and depression.  It is no secret that our constant exposure to chemicals and communicable diseases puts us at high risk for cancer and tuberculosis (which is now becoming drug-resistant), while it also puts our children at risk in utero.  Nurses have one of the highest rates of suicide, particularly since 2020.

People forget that our families are also patients.

Some of our families are frequently patients.

Nurses sometimes forget that sometimes, we’re family and not a working nurse.


The other day when my mother was in the hospital, I counted no less than four medication errors, innumerable safety errors, lack of monitoring errors (that could be lethal), errors in transport, and errors in safe handling of medications.

It took almost everything in me not to blurt it out to the staff constantly.  As you can imagine, I’m a delight for staff.  Particularly now that I have my own workplace injury to care for, I cannot be the aide for them and toilet my mother.  I cannot reach others and address her heart monitor.  I cannot do the various things that the staff is generally called to do and is too occupied and understaffed to do.

When family is helpful, it is a blessing.  They help take the pressure off.

When the family is “helpful” it is a curse.  This is doubly so when the family has healthcare knowledge.  We know we’re being judged.

Sitting at the bedside for eight hours, it was difficult to keep my ideas to myself.  I grumbled here and there, but made a point of not bothering the staff with simple tasks that I could perform.  It was difficult to know that the nurse made errors, she saw me see her making errors, didn’t say anything, and left.  It is difficult because I know her anxiety, but I also want to pull her aside and tell her that I saw it, but to be better.  I do not want her constantly wondering about how I think I could’ve done it better (I could’ve).  I do not want her thinking about how I could report her (I could, but I won’t).  She knows that I know.  I know she knows that I know.

But what now?  They all know that I have eyes and that I see what they’re doing.  I know the anxiety from people judging you and watching your every move, waiting for you to do something wrong so that their incoming tirade is justified.  I know all of that.  I give so much leeway to the strained and exhausted staff.  Truly, I do.

At the end of the day, even when I’m busy being a daughter, I am still a nurse.  I cannot take that out of who I am.

But I do try to shut her up when she has ideas of how to do things better when other nurses are just trying to make it through their 12 hours.

I do try.

Even so, nurses are patients.  Nurses are family.  We have been on both sides of that velvet rope and I’m not sure which is worse: knowing what to do and being forced not to do it or knowing what to do but being so occupied that we can’t do it.

Thusly, I sit by a cell phone waiting for news, refreshing the patient portal, and hoping that I might learn something that could provide some sort of reason or intervention or comfort.

Even if it is futile.

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There are 13 comments.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Oh, TRN. If you should ever have me in your care, watch out for Mom.

    She’s a nurse. When my grandfather was in the hospital, my parents went to visit. A nurse was getting Grandpa’s medication ready, and my mom had a look at his chart …

    My father was there, and it is from him that I got the description of the event and the aftermath.

    DEFCON 1. All weapons off safe. Hostilities have commenced. This is no drill.

    “Dad, have I ever made her that mad?”

    “I don’t think that I’ve ever made her that mad.”

    • #1
  2. DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax)
    @DonG

    TheRightNurse: nurse isn’t just a job.  It isn’t just a career.  It’s an identity.

    Same with engineers, but our 1940’s uniform was lame.  Fortunately for engineers our specialty rarely comes up in everyday life, so we be happily ignorant in the hospital. 

    • #2
  3. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Like, like, like.

    • #3
  4. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Really well written.

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    It’s definitely one of those “everyone should read this” posts. 

    • #5
  6. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Hey, TRN you actually work to keep people alive.  More important than anything I do which is try to make money or save money for my clients if I am lucky. Do not like the sight of blood. And fortunate enough to only see the nurses or techs when its blood checking time to make sure the port wine has not captured my liver.

    Did not know the kind of gross stuff you must see from time to time until I started reading The Matterhorn, one of best Viet Nam fiction books.  Navy Hospital Corpsman (Navy nurse) assigned to Marine infantry platoon starts working on a wounded Marine after a battle and starts cutting into a real private place. Grossed me out and had to stop reading it for awhile. Only in the first few pages.  Then learned where leeches could go into a wet Marine.  And had to be cut out.  Don’t know how you do this stuff but many thanks. 

    • #6
  7. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    I only had to worry about sea snakes. 

    • #7
  8. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    navyjag (View Comment):

    Hey, TRN you actually work to keep people alive. More important than anything I do which is try to make money or save money for my clients if I am lucky. Do not like the sight of blood. 

    My great-grandfather went to medical school, and the first time he was in the OR he fainted haha. He became  a Methodist minister instead.

    • #8
  9. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    And probably saved a few souls. If not lives. 

    • #9
  10. TheRightNurse Member
    TheRightNurse
    @TheRightNurse

    navyjag  Then learned where leeches could go into a wet Marine. And had to be cut out. Don’t know how you do this stuff but many thanks.

    Psh.  If you leave them, they’ll fall off.

    • #10
  11. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    TheRightNurse (View Comment):

    navyjag Then learned where leeches could go into a wet Marine. And had to be cut out. Don’t know how you do this stuff but many thanks.

    Psh. If you leave them, they’ll fall off.

    Not where that leech was. 

    • #11
  12. TheRightNurse Member
    TheRightNurse
    @TheRightNurse

    So far, the news from the hospital coincides with anything I would know to do. 

    Other family issues aside, I am deeply grateful for prayers and support.  It is difficult to be on the sidelines and completely hands off.

    • #12
  13. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) (View Comment):

    TheRightNurse: nurse isn’t just a job. It isn’t just a career. It’s an identity.

    Same with engineers, but our 1940’s uniform was lame. Fortunately for engineers our specialty rarely comes up in everyday life, so we be happily ignorant in the hospital.

    Not true- engineers can be among the biggest pains in the ass patients- b/c they are smart and ask good questions- the kind that can’t be answered…….I sometimes tell them if I could answer that I would have the Nobel prize and then I would not be taking care of them. It is often easy to tell the engineer patients by the questions they ask.

    • #13
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