Wednesday, January 26, 2011

This one is going to tick off my nurse friends. Sorry.

To my nurse friends, right off the bat, I apologize. And I know that a couple of days ago, my blog post was all about how wonderful nurses are. Most of them still are. Just not the one who is taking care of Dad tonight.

Seriously, why would someone for whom compassion is not a strong suit decide to become a nurse? And why is it -- Tric, I know you will answer this one -- that things that seem so simple to me as a lay person are things that absolutely cannot happen in the hospital because they violate some sort of procedure?

Case in point:

My dad -- who, mind you, is 91 and frail -- is in a lot of pain because of a pressure sore on his lower back. I call the nurse and ask her if anyone has looked at his back today. She responds, "Hmmm. I don't know." And then she shrugs. OK, don't you have a chart? And doesn't the chart note potential problems, things that need to be watched, etc.?

So I ask her to look at his back. She rolls him over, looks, and says, "Looks like yeast." And she proceeds to roll him back over and walk away. I say, in my nicest only-slightly-dripping-with-sarcasm voice, "Can you please put some Nystatin on it, and maybe cover it up so the friction doesn't bother him when he moves in bed?" She says, "We don't cover those, and we don't have Nystatin up here, and I don't want to have to call the doctor this late."

What?? Last time I looked, my dad and his insurance were helping to pay the doctor and the hospital. So I say, "Tell you what. I'll call the doctor's office, see who's on call, and ask that person to authorize some Nystatin." She glares at me -- GLARES -- and says, "All right, I'll call."

Mind you, this whole time, my dad is sitting in bed, saying over and over, "Oh, my God. It hurts. Oh, my God. It hurts." And so I turn into Shirley MacLaine in "Terms of Endearment" and say to the nurse, "THANK YOU. CAN YOU CALL HIM NOW? BECAUSE IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THE WAY TO HANDLE THIS WOULD BE TO CALL FOR SOME NYSTATIN, THEN COME BACK IN HERE WITH A PAIN PILL BECAUSE, YOU SEE, MY DAD IS IN PAIN. HOW ABOUT IF WE DO THAT?"

And she turns on the heel of her little pink Crock and walks out and picks up her phone, probably to call the doctor and complain about this psycho-b*tch of a daughter she's having to deal with.

But, no, I'm not done.

She comes back 15 minutes later with two Oxycodone. I ask, "Can he please have his Ativan, too, as it's close to bedtime and he's been afraid to go to sleep?" And she actually challenges me. "What do you mean?" she asks with what I swear is some sort of haughty little snort. "Why is he afraid to sleep?"

Now, again, I am not a medical professional, but even I can reason that a sick 91-year-old man probably is afraid to sleep because he's afraid he won't wake up. I suppress the urge to ask where she earned her degree in compassion and say, "I know you're very busy. You have other patients. You need to get to them. So can you please look on my dad's chart, see that Ativan can be given every six hours, and" -- I said this next part through clenched teeth -- "Give. Him. His. Pill?"

To make a long story not quite as insufferably long, he did get the Ativan, and he drifted off into a nice, presumably pain-free sleep. But there's still steam coming out of my ears.

Let me put it this way: If you are a nice medical professional, I am your best friend. No one respects more than I do the fact that nurses, doctors, techs and aides work very, very hard. If you're nice to me or my loved one, I will be courteous to you and thank you and bring you baked goods and write nice letters to your bosses. I'll tell others, near and far, how wonderful you are because, by God, we need to be damned grateful to people who keep us comfortable and make us well and even save our lives.

But if you're a mean medical professional, I'll write blog posts about you. I'll also be tempted to use your name, but I won't. Know why? Because the compassionate part of me is telling myself, "Maybe there was a reason for her behavior. Maybe someone hurt her feelings. Maybe she's not feeling well. Maybe she, too, has a sick family member."

I'm sorry, though -- you're taking care of a lot of old people tonight. And there's enough inherent indignity in being old that you really shouldn't make it more difficult. You may not think so now, but you won't be 24 and healthy forever.


  1. Lisa, thank you for sharing this story. I am an RN and you didn't tick me off. :)

    I have seen nurses do things that make me embarrassed to be a part of the profession. While orienting on a mother/baby unit I watched the RN encourage a first-time Mom to go ahead and give the baby a bottle instead of taking the time to help her nurse him because (she whispered conspiratorially as we left the room;) "we need to get to lunch." (Unfortunately she didn't know I was a nearly militant supporter of breastfeeding and she got to enjoy a little re-training that week.) And when I had surgery at the University of Iowa last year, I lay in the recovery room for nearly 5 hours with no (I am not exaggerating- NO) pain medication while I endured the full pain of having 95% of my stomach removed from my chest cavity (it was adhered to my heart, lungs and vena cava due to failure of a previous surgery) and returned to my abdominal cavity all because the dozens of nurses milling around refused to clarify an order by calling the physician. (Suffice it to say I received a formal letter of apology and a $0 balance for my nearly $50,000 surgery.) We returned there a couple weeks ago for my youngest daughter's foot surgery and I had to break out my Mama Bear just to get the nurses to communicate with each other.

    The are many awesome and dedicated professional nurses in our hospitals and clinics, but when you are on the receiving end of the "care" of the one you describe above, it causes you to feel fearful about leaving your loved one alone.

    There are always "bad apples," but in the medical field, they need to be reprimanded and retrained and if that fails, removed quickly before they really harm someone.

    I always encourage patients and families to make a complaint to the charge nurse and the director of nursing when this happens.

    Hope your Dad continues to improve and is able to get back home again soon.

    Love reading your blog!

  2. Joani, I did complain. And the charge nurse was very, very apologetic. We left soon after, so we didn't have to deal with her again, thankfully.

    I am in awe of the many wonderful nurses, physicians and other medical professionals who have crossed our path the past two years. And I can only imagine how much your patients love you. :)