Archive for June, 2012

Charge Mommy

A few days ago, one of my colleagues said to me after a particularly frantic day in the ED, “You guys aren’t Charge Nurses, you’re Charge Mommies.” She is right. This is what we do:

  • tell all the kids don’t fight and play nice
  • fix boo-boos
  • give hugs as needed, or tissue
  • make sure all the kids get lunch
  • find things
  • repair broken toys
  • clean up little “accidents”
  • greet guests, and ensure they’re fed and comfortable
  • make sure everyone keeps the place tidy
  • assign chores
  • deal with the unpleasant relatives upstairs

The one thing I don’t do is enforce discipline. No spankings or time outs. I have a Manager Mommy for that.

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Treat the Patient Not the Disease

Abscesses and wounds, and especially abscesses and wounds which are infected, suppurative, purulent, and generally awful, are embarrassing for patients and difficult for nurses. Embarrassing for patients because they are disfiguring and smell badly, and difficult for nurses for really the same reasons. Personally I don’t mind caring for and treating wounds and abscesses, but I know plenty of nurses who would rather throw live kittens on a hot barbecue than go anywhere near a draining carbuncle.

Jennifer Olin over at RNCentral has an excellent blog post on caring for wounds. The first part of her post deals a little with the pathophysiology of wounds, the second on the providing good care to patients with wounds. Olin writes:

Well, we are likely the healthcare providers who will first notice the problem. It will be during a dressing change, or just when you enter the patient’s room—you know. The scientific side of nursing will to clean the wound, inspect it, chart it, and if it is bad enough, inform the wound care team or physician. But remember, I said you are likely the first healthcare provider to notice. Trust me, the patient already knows.
This is where the nurturing side, the compassionate side of nursing is brought into play. And, it’s not for the weak of stomach or, particularly, the weak of heart. Bad smells carry a social stigma along with the health hazards inherent in the wound itself. Wet, sticky, bandages are a sign for all to see that there is a problem. People with wounds in this state often suffer inhibited work, social, and sex lives and frequently have feelings of shame and depression.

[SNIP]

You learn little tricks to help you not react (breath through your mouth, use a minty lip balm).  Keeping the patient engaged is the key. Many of them won’t look at their wounds, won’t acknowledge there is a problem, or want to discuss it. You can teach them how to clean and dress their wounds, give them pamphlets and supplies, and help them plan future appointments but it is the emotional part of nursing that will often make the biggest impact on their healing and wellness.

Something we (remember?) were all taught in nursing school was the holistic care of the patient, that is, caring not only for the physical complaint of the patient, but also for the emotional, spiritual, social and even economic needs of the patient. Good wound care exemplifies nursing care in a microcosm. So when nurses see a patient with a decubitus ulcer, what do they see, the wound or the patient? Our inclination, of course, is to see the wound, somehow detached from the person bearing it, a way of thinking exacerbated by seeing nursing as a series of tasks to be completed rather than a holistic process involving critical thinking. Olin’s article, in this context, is a good reminder that in the end, we should be treating the patient, not the disease.

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A Note about Alan Sullivan

Nearly two years ago, the poet and blogger Alan Sullivan died. His final project, a new translation of the Book of Psalms, has been published. The translation can be ordered here. His collaborator and advisor on this translation, Seree Zohar, was kind enough to send me a note to tell me this, and to gently correct my impression — as I wrote in my post about his death — that the work remained unfinished. Sullivan, in fact, completed the translation in the very last days of his life, and I am glad to make that correction.

More on Alan Sullivan as poet is found in this brilliant tribute here.

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Generation Gaps

I recently took a course with nurses of varied years of experience and ages, but it was primarily made up of fairly new graduate nurses within the last year or two. During one lecture the facilitator was speaking about the future of nursing and how we need to address the current issues and challenges that exist in the nursing profession today, and asked the class to outline a few. Issues such as the global nursing shortage, heavier workloads, lack of education support, feelings of little public appreciation and individual unit situations were brought up. One nurse felt that on his unit there was a large divide between the older senior nurses and the new junior staff. This perked up my ears. He felt that the senior nurses were threatened by the amount of theory and knowledge that he and his fellow junior colleagues had and insinuated the senior nurses felt the juniors were going to take their jobs or roles on their unit. He continued to say that the generational and differing nursing requirement (degree vs. diploma) issues existing on his unit put a huge divide between the younger and older staff. (*disclaimer* While yes, I have written about how nurses can eat their young, I disagreed with the standpoint he took.) It’s terrible to think this is happening, and despite what I have written (that is only a handful of nurses FYI, by no means the picture of the entire Acme Regional ED senior staff in the least) I personally find that there is a great blend of ages and levels of experience within my unit personally.  He stated that perhaps the junior nurses should be on their own line with the senior nurses on another. I cringed at the thought of that. For any unit to run effectively and safely it is in my opinion, which I am almost positive would be shared with most, that there needs to be senior staff at all times. A line of strictly junior staff would be unsafe and potentially detrimental to patient care not to mention the amount of issues, disagreements and incidents that could and would arise. I think of inconsistencies in care and the potential for a patient’s change in condition to be overlooked simply due to inexperience until too late.  I have found that the novice and senior staff continue to learn from each other as each are on different ends of their careers with different types of knowledge to share.  This nurse went on to say that maybe the senior staff needs to go in for remedial courses to be brought up to the “standard” of the new grad degree nurses. *insert shocked look on face*. I nearly fell off my chair. If the experienced diploma nurse does not want to go for their degree how and why could one be forced to take theoretical courses that in my mind, often have little to no benefit to the patient at the bedside. I relayed my personal opinion that the diploma nurses he is suggesting should go for remedial courses to be “brought up to speed” in fact had far more clinical time as students than any of us degree nurses and as a result were far better prepared going to the bedside when they graduated as opposed to us. I reminded him of the amount of papers and classroom time we spent talking more about nursing than actually doing it. I could write a 10 page paper on how to properly sew an emblem on a jacket with 4-5 APA references if I was asked to (please no one ask me) as a result of the amount of theory referencing involved in the degree program. This nurse’s sentiments about how degree nurses are far more qualified to be at the bedside than the diploma nurses and generation gaps exist out of jealousy or by being ill prepared made me question what sort of nonsense he was spoon-fed upon his obviously very successful graduation from a degree program. I am the product of the degree program but I do not endorse the structure of degree nursing program, at least not the one I was in. I think I should have been at the bedside far more than I was. I had yet to give an IM injection to a real patient until I was consolidating in my final 4th year placement. I had however written an excellent 25 page paper on nursing leadership and how to effectively determine who should get Christmas vacation with examples of different leadership skills, roles and suggestions on effective management.. *insert vomit sound*. I suppose however it can depend on what one wishes to do with their career and the direction they want to take it.

Ultimately what I am trying to get at is while I am sure generation gaps exist on units, I do not believe it is entirely as a result of degree vs diploma more than it might be just personality related. Differing maturity levels, different interests, and people at different points in their lives not to mention the obvious that we are all individuals.  I enjoy working with the tough take no nonsense 15 year nurse as much as I like working with the 35 year veteran nurse who still gives every patient a bed bath and the novice 2 year nurse who wants to learn about every patient condition possible. A few of my closest coworkers have nearly 10+ years on me with a couple who could even be my parent.

Gaps exist only if we let them and really, we are not here to make friends. When we do that’s great, however, we have a job to do. If that 25 year nurse doesn’t like me, she at least knows I can get an IV on a 5 day old on the first poke and that’s all that matters. We often forget how our “issues” can affect the patients.

So i ask this, do generation gaps exist on your units? If so, are they related to degree vs diploma nurses or more just due to differing personalities and individuals at different points in their lives? Do you find yourself getting along with the nurses of the “opposite” generation?

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How Nurses Practice

Working on a PowerPoint presentation, and did up this (yet to be formatted) slide:

Which column do you think represents the current state of nursing practice?

 

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We Get No Respect

From Ian Miller at ImpactedNurse.com, a few thoughts on under-utilized and under-recognized senior nurses who are leaking out of the profession:

Nursing has few opportunities for promotion and recognition of senior expertise within the clinical setting. How often have you watched senior (and I’m talking about years of experience here) nurses move on to non-clinical management positions, or drift off into non-nursing jobs where their specialised skills are snapped up, or just stagnate on the floor (feeling little respect from the system) with nowhere to go and little exploration of the stuff they might teach.
What we are sadly lacking is a health system that gives the nursing ‘elders’ opportunity, support and recognition to pass on their profession, their experiences, their corporate knowledge and their craft to the next generations. This huge collective of nursing elders have so much to offer both the healthcare policy planning process in general and the future of nursing in particular.
As many of them are now approaching retirement the opportunity to pass on the craft will be lost forever. Skills that could be used to improve quality healthcare delivery, departmental operations and mentor-ship of other nurses. Believe me, those skills are out there in many of these people. They should be consulted not insulted.
Such a waste.

This seems to me about exactly right, and very nicely describes the  position — and present frustration —  of many nurses, including myself. The career path for the vast majority of nurses is pretty flat. The conventional nursing career path looks like this:

Graduation

35 years service on ward(s)

Retirement

Death

I am not exaggerating — not much anyway. Any movement, to be sure,  is usually in a lateral motion, e.g. from ED to ICU to PACU etc., but always as front line staff. Moving upwards almost always means a move away from your specialty. And that’s a waste too.

And there’s also this elephant in the room: would we be talking about things like wasted skills and staff retention if front line nurses were truly respected, and recognized as being the centre of what we do as a profession? Or to put it another way, if front line, bedside nursing was considered valuable in itself, would so many nurses be itching to get out?

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Protect Your Love

Via Osocio, a very likeable ad for HIV prevention and awareness from the Toronto-based Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention. Osocio notes the ad is less about sex than and more about love, and in this way, I think, it manages to get its message across effectively, without being preachy or didactic.

(Incidentally, the short scene filmed in the Scarborough RT is very funny.)

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Favourite Poems LVII: Death

The first two lines — “Because I could not stop for Death,/He kindly stopped for me” — must be among the greatest opening lines of any poem.

Death

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

http://zhurnaly.com/images/zhurnalnet_z_images/emily_dickinson.jpg

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

— Emily Dickenson

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When the Police Come Calling

The police are more-or-less a permanent fixture in every Emergency department. They bring in the drunks, the suicidal, the psychotic, the homeless and yes, the criminal, who have either sustained injuries as a result of their activities, or else have developed sudden (and convenient) cardiac symptoms upon their arrest. Most of us in Acme Regional’s ED will cooperate with the police to the point of expediting whatever they need us to do, which usually means filling out the Form 1 or medically clearing the patient. At the same time, most of are pretty clear that ED nurses and physicians are not an extension of the Police Service: police objectives and those of health care, to state the obvious,  are not the same.

It isn’t exactly mistrust. It’s more a wariness. There are ethical and legal issues involved. We cannot, for example, divulge patient information, so there is the constant dance of the police asking for information they know we won’t give them.  Come back with a subpoena, we tell them. They try anyway.

Then there is this: what do when the police bring in someone who, well, they’ve been beating on. It isn’t common, I should emphasize, but it isn’t so rare that it excites comment either. The police will say (nudge, nudge) the patient fell on the pavement while being arrested. Or banged his head while getting into the cruiser. Or the wall hit his face. Which may even be partly true. The patient usually says nothing at all.

So what do we do about it? Approximately nothing. We might document the injuries, in case there are  legal problems down the road. Or not. We are definitely not going to make any allegations about misuse of force. Who wants to travel that road, full of traps and pitfalls and paper by the mile plus, of course, the undying enmity of the local cops? I have seen a few pretty egregious cases, and we did exactly that — nothing. As well, I suppose many of us don’t want to second guess the police: I mean, who knows how things really go down, right? And we say, didn’t he deserve it anyway?

But how does this make anyone accountable? Including ourselves? And don’t we have a legal system in place to adjudicate innocence and guilt, and administer punishment?

It’s a moral swamp. And having thought about it long and hard, I’m not clear what, if anything, that can be done about it in practical terms. ED staff are not the guardians of the guardians. So we document. Poor excuse, I know.

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The phrases junior nurses and most staff do not care to hear from senior nurses…

…or the negativity they can spew….

“You wouldn’t know what to look for in that type of patient assessment anyways…”

How do you know I don’t know what to assess for? Are you the textbook I read from? The online periodicals I continue to educate myself with? Are you every patient I have assessed in the last 8 years? Did you teach me? Were you my preceptor in some nightmare? Well since you are none of the previous and you’re not a bound textbook (despite how wound up you are all the time) please do not assume that since I have less experience than you, I won’t know how to assess a patient with XYZ diagnosis. Perhaps just ask if I know what the presenting signs and symptoms may be and any associated complications to monitor for, what the normal would be, etc… and take a supportive and educative approach if you are concerned about my assessment skills without any condescending tone or implied disregard for my apparent limited knowledge.

I recently had a patient with a skull fracture, (the head injury happened a day earlier), and the senior nurse asked if the patient had battle’s sign, (bruising behind the ears), which they did not, I informed her, to which she rudely replied with, “you wouldn’t know what battle’s sign looks like anyways…”. Between being 0645 in the morning after a long night shift and the only words coming out of my mouth would have been immature and highly offensive, I felt it right to walk away from the conversation.

As per this blog post, I’m clearly still stewing.

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