So recently there has been an outpouring of anger towards The View for the stupid things they said about Miss Colorado in the Miss America pageant. I figured I could throw my 10 cents into the pile here, since I actually have a unique point of view on the topic of nurses. I am the wife of an oncology nurse and the mother of a cancer survivor (these two things are NOT separate. My amazing husband went to nursing school after our little girl was sick so that he could protect her… men are creatures of action and he took action). So I have seen nurses on duty and off, and I can break down what they TRULY contribute to the medical field.
Additionally, my view isn’t colored by the pain of being the patient, or skewed by being in the medical profession at all. In fact, I might be able to give you a REALLY clear view without romanticizing it, since as a lawyer, I used to prosecute nurses that violated the Nurse Practice Act here in Florida for 3 years. I have SEEN that there are bad nurses, and I have SEEN what a bad nurse an do. But I can attest that, knowing the number of nurses in this state and comparing that HUGE number to the number of complaints filed with DOH every year, the offenders are very few and far between. Having had this experience, though, I guess you could say that I have a genuinely open-eyed view of the nursing profession.
First, as the mother of a cancer survivor, I can give you a clean, unhindered view of what a nurse does with their 12 hour shifts. Typically nurses work 12 hour shifts… 12 on, 12 off, for three days. Sometimes it’s 4 days. Sometimes they are asked to carry back to back shifts when the hospital is understaffed. So they could be on 24 hours straight (though most states are moving to make that illegal or have already done so because that’s not fair to the patients or the nurses).
During those 12 hour shifts, they are typically assigned around 4 to 6 patients. Some hospitals will allow up to 10. (If you can imagine running between 10 patients and providing good care in 12 hours… holy cow, no clue how that is even possible). ICU nurses typically have only 2 patients in a shift because those patients require such intensive and time consuming care. They have little phones strapped to their hips, so that any time one of their patients needs something ranging from the TV channel changed to the dressings from a surgery incision changed, the nurse can be pinged, no matter what she is doing. And often it happens every time they are with a patient.
Nurses have to get report from the nurse on the previous shift on all of his or her patients, which is when the previous nurse tell the nurse which patients have had issues during the shifts, if any medications were withheld, given, refused, etc., doctor’s orders that were entered, doctors/scans/specialists that were anticipated or just done, every single detail from the previous shift on each patient. After that, they have to review all the doctor’s orders on all their patients and get any medications that need to be administered, and go to each patient giving medication or treatments or whatever is on the patient’s chart. This can take HOURS.
During this time, the nurse is constantly interrupted by pages over the intercom or that little phone for a patient he or she is not with in order to respond to code blues, give CPR (sometimes in very prolonged and physically challenging marathons), handle emergencies that come up like a patient fall causing a head injury, a new patient coming to the floor with all new orders and medications and demands, change dressings a patient has pulled off, help clean up a patient getting sick, help calm a patient or a patient family member or other person, deal with beeping machines that are done administering IV push medications, deal with beeping machines collecting information on heart rates or respirations, change diapers, change bed sheets, help clean up messes made by patients, and otherwise help keep patients clean, healthy, and happy. And yes, the nurses do the bedpans and the bed changings and help with the TV channel too, because hospitals are so short staffed they don’t have enough patient care assistants (or CNAs) to handle all the patients. Then he or she can get back to that medication and treatment schedule she was supposed to do at the beginning of the shift… and she has to stay on top of that, because she has the same schedule she has to complete at the end of her shift too!
The nurse does not have time to go to the bathroom or eat lunch or drink a glass of water. He or she does not have time to feel sad about that favorite patient that just died in her arms. He or she does not have the luxury of crying when she’s handed a dying baby to his mother so he can lay on his mother’s chest as he takes his last breath. The nurse can’t even rest after one of those CPR marathons where he or she wasn’t able to bring the patient back. The nurse has to suck it up and push forward for the health and safety of her other patients.
I have had nurses help clean up my burnt hands when I caught Sophie’s chemo puke. One nurse was cleaning my hands up as another one was cleaning out Sophie’s crib so that Sophie didn’t get it on her skin. I was able to keep it off of Sophie, but it got all over my hands and wrists. I wasn’t even their patient, and they were there to help me. When I started to freak out about the state of Sophie’s liver with the high dose chemo, I had a nurse come in and sit with me to chart out the liver numbers so that I could see that they were very very slowly trending down despite the random spikes. When I freaked about Sophie having a gram rod negative bacteria growing in her blood when she had 0 white blood cells, the nurse hunted down a print out of the tests where they tested the bacterium against a list of antibiotics, and she showed me all the antibiotics that worked for that one infection. She gave me print outs of Sophie’s lab works every morning cause she knew I needed information to stay calm. Another nurse took nights with us and showed me how to set up the horrible pull out bed and squeeze in a blow-up mattress in order to sleep better (we were there for months). Yet another nurse tracked down Tim Tebow who was on the floor and brought him by to see me cause she caught Sophie and I watching old football shots of the Gators on youtube (anything to keep the kid calm) and knew I liked the Gators. She got the firefighters to visit our room when they were on the floor. When I was scared for any number of reasons, the nurses would track down information or social workers or child life specialists or whoever or whatever we needed. And NONE of this was on their scheduled list of things they had to get done during their shift in order to complete their jobs properly. This was in addition to treatments, bandage changes, medication schedules, and emergencies.
These men and women suck it up, and FIGHT for their patients. They go to bat for what they know the patient needs, sometimes fighting their supervising nurses or doctors, because they are on the front line! In the military we send in the Marines first in to level the ground before we send in the rest of our military. The Marines are in up front and personal with the carnage. They are the ones that suffer the hardest hits. They carry the permanent scars. The Marines are the Nurses. Front line fighters. In front of what the patient is saying and thinking and feeling and ALL OF THAT effects the patient’s treatment. And all the while fighting on the front lines, these nurses are human. And as much as the doctors are good at what they do, often they aren’t as human with the patients, won’t be as personal, won’t be kind and gentle and loving when the patient just needs it. The nurses do that. They will provide gentleness when needed, or tell you to suck it up and fight when you need it. They get into the dirt with the patient and his or her family.
Don’t get me wrong, Doctors are life savers and some of them are truly good, hard working saints, but in the YEARS I have stood with my daughter as she fought cancer, the majority of the doctors we ran up against saw her as a bag of cells they needed to treat. She’s not cells. She’s a little girl. A little girl with a life and loves and wants and dreams. Those few doctors that saw the whole package truly GOT IT. And lucky for us, they were her primary care physicians her assigned oncologist, her assigned hepatologist, her assigned orthopedist. We were VERY lucky. But with Nurses, we didn’t need luck 90% of the time. The nurses on the pediatric floor, as a unit, with very few exceptions, were all incredible. They were ALL there because they cared enough about the patient to want to make the worst time of their patients lives tolerable. They fought with us. They cried with us. They held us and rocked and said it would be okay. They tickled Sophie’s big distended tummy and told her she was a pretty princess and brought her crowns and cinnamon toast crunch and fought so hard for her. Their job is horribly hard. It’s exhausting. I couldn’t do 10 minutes of it. And I like to thing I’m strong, but let’s be honest. If it wasn’t my kid, I couldn’t have lived through that. To do that for a job? Saints. All of them.
As the wife of a nurse, I can tell you what those 12 hour shifts do to a person. Daniel LOVED his job on the oncology floor. (I asked him to find a 9-5 nursing job when I was pregnant with our third kid. I needed his help at night… Without it, envision the Lord of the Flies. My living room. Yup.) He felt and KNEW he was saving someone’s life every day, and he got such happiness from that knowledge. But there would be days when a patient he particularly was fond of would pass, and he’d come home silent. He ever complained. I could just tell he was drained. Mentally and physically exhausted by sitting over the patient’s body and pumping the patient’s chest during CPR for 20 minutes, trying desperately to bring him or her back. And losing the battle. The look in his eyes was haunting, but he always would smile and tell me it was okay. He’d always say he loved his work. This was every few weeks. He’d still get up the next morning at 5 and be at work by 6 for report, and was still incredible at what he did. And his shift wouldn’t end until he was done with his rounds and gave report. It could be 7:30, it could be 10. So “12 shifts” translated to 14-16 hour shifts, nearly every day. He got less and less sleep. He didn’t eat much on those bad days. His back and shoulders would KILL him from the constant lifting of heavy patients into and out of beds, into chairs, etc, but he NEVER complained. Just put ice packs or a warming pad on his back after dinner, and watch TV right next tome. The stress was on his face. The pain in his eyes. And he was happy to get up to go to work in the morning anyways. Since he left his job he has days when he feels like he needs to get back… It’s like watching a wounded soldier wanting to go back to fighting because his fellow soldiers are still out there and he doesn’t want to abandon them. Dan doesn’t want to abandon his fellow nurses or the patients. But his demanding wife and her litter of kids need him right now, so he’s given it up for now.
THAT is the dedication that most nurses have. Because, despite the pieces of themselves that they lose, they know that the next day maybe they can save someone with the CPR. Maybe something they can do can buy that patient a few more days with their loved ones. And as the mother of a child that nearly left us a few times, I can tell you every second with your loved ones is invaluable. And these nurses give you that. There is no gift more valuable.
I’m not saying they are all perfect. By all means, NO ONE is perfect. But they are all impossibly hard working slaves to making other people’s lives better and deaths dignified. Thank GOD they are on this earth doing that.
Oh and those stethoscopes are standard issue, Joy Beyhar. Even my 7 year old knows that.