Nurse 101: How to Understand Your Nurse

In these days of patient satisfaction surveys, the actual quality of the nursing care has become a sideline in hospitals, clinics, and medical offices.  These surveys focus on things that have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of care or knowledge of the professional staff; they refer to the pleasantness of the hotel experience that happens to have nurses instead of concierge staff.  SO, it’s only fair that the patients know what the nurse actually does.  When I slip into the feminine pronoun, I’m really including all nurses- male and female.  It’s just that most of my former co-workers were female before I ended up on disability (c’mon guys- go to nursing school, we need you, too !).

1) Your nurse protects you from stupid people.  That may be a less experienced nurse, a very experienced physician (somebody had to graduate bottom of the class),  your family and friends, or even yourself.  While you have every right to undermine your medical care, your nurse is required to follow orders and standards of practice. Those are designed to keep you in the best shape possible…so you go HOME.  He/she cannot participate in your non-compliance, so don’t get mad at him/her for not responding to your temper tantrums when you don’t get what you want.  Get well, go home, and self-destruct there.

2) Your nurse uses his/her experience to know if you are starting to tank. Go down the tubes. Circle the drain.  He/she then notifies your physician- or in the case of a massive meltdown of your respiratory and/or circulatory system, calls many people around the hospital to come and try to keep you from dying.  That is called a ‘code’.  That is a very serious thing- and it could be happening to someone else your nurse is responsible for, so that request for another box of tissues may be delayed.  Dying person trumps runny nose. So sorry.

3) Your nurse is not paid to babysit your unruly family, or chase your nieces and nephews (or kids) up and down the halls.  Either rein them in, or don’t be surprised when they are asked to leave. If you need help with that, security loves to escort people to the parking lot!

4) Your nurse actually wants the best for you.  She wants you to get well, and she hopes that you also want to be a partner in your own care to achieve the best possible outcome.  She didn’t go to nursing school to watch people make lousy choices and then do all they can to stay sick.

5) Your nurse wants you to be happy with your care !  Sometimes it might seem like she is distracted….well, here’s a secret: she has more patients than just YOU !   Most nurses I’ve worked with want to spend more time with patients, but there are medications to pass, doctors to call, orders to process, calls to pharmacy and consulting doctors, CHARTING (documenting down every fart, pee, poo, problems with pain, complications, and what not- on EVERY patient she has), etc.  There is a LOT going on behind the scenes that also goes into your care, and the care of all of her patients.  Let her know what you want and need- but give her a break if it takes a little while to see her again…she may have 4-5 other patients (on the day shift in well-staffed hospitals) that also are asking for things.  When you are sick, it’s hard to think about the other folks, but she has to worry about them as well 🙂  It’s not that she doesn’t like you…you’re just doing better than the next guy, so she has to keep that person from bottoming out before she can come back and see how you are doing.  If you have something going on that really can’t wait (chest pain, can’t breathe, blood shooting out of your nose, or some other medical change that is making angels sing in your head), then tell the person that answers your call light.  While the nurse who comes in to check you won’t know you as well as your ‘real’ nurse, at least you’ll have someone check you out.  But if you use that for everything, you will have a very cranky nurse with a fake smile.  Not really all that great to piss off the nurse. She wants to like you, but it’s not a requirement.

6) This is a big secret: Nurses have bodily functions and get sick!… and most of the time they don’t have 3 minutes to address them.  Lunch may be a granola bar in the bathroom, since there’s not time for both (don’t worry, she’ll wash her hands).  She might be at work with a horrible cold, because the nursing office won’t allow nurses to take sick days unless they are dying and have a certificate from 6 doctors saying that being at work will kill her sooner. OK, it’s not quite that bad, but nurses are not encouraged to take care of themselves.  Taking days off is considered ‘inexcusable’ and if she has too many of those, she gets fired.  If she has kids, taking time off for a sick kid counts against her.  Your healthcare professional is encouraged to ignore her own health, to take care of YOU !

So here’s the bottom line.  Your nurses want you happy and on the road to recovery. They want to provide the best care they can to support you in your physical recovery.  They are not waitresses, entertainment for your kids, or even your personal, private nurse. You are one of many, and she is literally running her butt off to get everything done in a day for all of her patients.  Make your needs known, but understand that ‘wants’ aren’t the same thing.  And don’t ding her on the satisfaction survey unless there is a serious, health-altering snafu that she does... lukewarm coffee won’t affect your longevity.  Look at the bigger picture.  And know that’s what she does every time she comes to work- for several patients.  You are a part of her overall picture, and she’s generally doing the very best she can to take care of you.

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