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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.Published in