Nurses Are Terrible Patients

Things change when the nurse becomes the patient. I missed my blog post last week because I was in a hospital bed. I thought I would just take my electronic toys, but it turns out that by the time you argue with monitor wires, oxygen tubing, and IV lines, you really can’t handle getting a laptop out. I was lucky to bust out an iPad to read on. I even dreaded bathroom trips. Such a production. I did have my iPad and my Nintendo 3DS with me for a while, but my Animal Crossing townfolk are very cross with me.

The nurses who took care of me were nice and competent as well (on several units altogether because my stay was for PSVT, paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, with chest pain and other goodies that ended up not being any “scary badnesses,” for what it’s worth, but that needed a long workup). The place was clean and quiet, On the face of it, it should have been fine.

I hated it.

You go hours without seeing anyone, you feel like you’re bothering someone, and you are helpless just to get up to the bathroom. I couldn’t imagine actually being ill under these conditions. I am (as it turns out) a perfectly healthy chick who just lacks a penchant for untangling a bunch of wires and fighting the bed. Who invented those beds that act like bucking broncos? And when you’re not trying to get up, you’re exhausted lying in bed.

Then the doctors did some things that made no sense and that took hours to resolve, none of which surprised me because, you know, I’ve met doctors before. I was dirty because sponge baths were all that were practical. The topper was that when the tech removed my IV she held no pressure, said, “Looks good!” and handed me my (long-sleeved, white) shirt, which I donned with alacrity to get out of the place. My arm bled like stink so my arm was red, and my friends were all at work so I had to wait for a cab, and it was an hour wait, so I sat there feeling ridiculously filthy and miserable. My compassion ratcheted up approximately a thousandfold.

I learned that it means the world for a nurse to stick her head in and say, “I’m just thinking about you. Are you doing OK?” For them to ask if your IV site feels OK. To do that annoying scripted “I have time; is there anything I can get for you?”

And I saw how obvious it is that nurses really do keep doctors from killing you—or at least keep you from getting or missing incorrect treatments. Three times I got a “wrong patient,” a “wrong med ordered,” and “shouldn’t have discontinued that one [medication that I was there to be monitored about]!”

Nothing dangerous happened, meaning I came to no real harm. That number unnerves me, though. What about the patients who aren’t knowledgeable and watching their own treatment? I could have gone half my stay not even receiving the medication I was supposed to be monitored on. Easily.

All healthcare providers should have to be patients at their hospital. Real ones, with real tests and real needles and painful things. It reminds me of an old movie with William Hurt called “The Doctor.” He is a physician who gets cancer and ends up making his medical students undergo the indignities and stresses of being a sick patient. The same should apply to nurses. I will never look at my job the same way again or as any less of an imperative to care for people.

About Megen Duffy

view all posts

Megen Duffy, RN, BA, BSN, CEN, is a practicing nurse, blogger, and contributing editor for the American Journal of Nursing. Megen has practiced in a variety of settings from emergency rooms to prisons.