When I was but a nurseling, working in a hospital way out in the sticks, it was a pretty common occurrence for someone or other to come up to me in the grocery while I was picking over the melons or something, and say, “I am so much better now, thank you, thank you.” I hardly ever remembered them at all, but that was okay. It was nice they noticed despite their fractured tib-fib/DVT/SVT/head injury.
Far fewer people approach me now in the big city. Occasionally I see the odd ex-patient, though. Last summer I was in Merrickville, way out in Eastern Ontario, having dinner at a bar; a guy saw me, and said “I remember you. You were there when I had my heart attack. The doc was awesome! He saved my life!”
Well, I thought, actually no. I did remember this guy, who came roaring in with the proverbial elephant sitting on his chest, and smelling like a two-pack-a-day habit. He was a bad anterior wall STEMI. The doc emphatically did not save his life; we as a team saved his life. As for the nurses, we
- identified his chest pain as probably being cardiac in origin
- gave him ASA
- got the diagnostic ECG, saw it was an MI, and promptly alerted the physician to his presence
- did the usual secondary assessment, hooked him up the cardiac monitor, provided oxygen, and started two IVs
- prepared the thrombolytic drug for IV push
- ordered the chest x-ray and drew bloodwork
- Pushed the thrombolytic, gave him morphine, metoprolol, and enoxaparin and sedative
All within ten minutes of arrival. And apart from the thrombolytic and the other meds, before the doc even laid eyes on him. The nurses’ role in this was slightly more than secondary and hand-maidenish, wouldn’t you think?
I was reminded of this incident yesterday, when I saw this on the The Truth About Nurses website:
Tonight ABC will air the fifth episode of Boston Med, the eight-part documentary about the work and personal lives of health care workers at Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women’s, and Children’s hospitals.
But the new series has received an amazingly positive reaction from some reviewers and even some nurses because, along with the 16 physicians and surgeons profiled in the four episodes that have aired so far, there is one nurse! In a few scenes, this MGH nurse, Amanda Grabowski, displays technical knowledge and gives viewers some sense of nurses’ roles as patient advocates and autonomous practitioners. But as the episodes go on, the show steadily forgets her clinical work, focusing instead on her social life. This approach undermines the sense of her as a serious professional, and even flirts with the stereotype that nurses are mainly about romance.
But it’s unlikely the nurse elements will have much impact alongside what will likely be profiles of some 25 physicians, especially since those profiles utterly ignore the nurses who actually provide most of the skilled care to the patients portrayed. The overall message is that physicians, especially surgeons, are the life-savers who do everything that matters. [emphasis mine.]
It’s the same old story: the physicians get the glory, and the nurses get the minor supporting roles. We’re ancillary, and remember, ancillary comes from the Latin word ancilla, meaning, “maid.”
At some point you have to ask, how do physicians always get the good PR? What’s the mystique about? (Trust me, up close and personal, there ain’t much.) And also, how much of this do we nurses do to ourselves?