Meaning me, of course.
I worked a (rare) Night 12 a few days ago. It was the usual dog’s breakfast of high acuity, walking wounded without end lining up at Triage, and the particular Emergency Department hell of having no beds for, you know, emergency patients, the department being a stunt double for a med-surg unit. But there was a small ray of hope. Or rather it was okay news-sucky news situation. We were to get a bed, the element of suckiness resting on the fact the bed was on 5 North, my perennial nemesis, where, I swear, reside the most obstreperous nurses in the history of the Universe.
(Excuses I have heard over the years from 5 North for not taking patients: too busy, patient too sick, patient too combative, patient [with normal vitals] too unstable, patient a drug abuser, patient HIV positive, on break, short-staffed, still on break, patient restrained, patient not restrained, swabs not resulted, patient unsuitable, no one to take report, too close to shift change, just about to go on break, you just sent us a patient, the bed isn’t clean, the patient hasn’t left the bed, the room needs to be cleaned, too late in the night, too early in the morning, the patient will disturb the patient in the next bed, it’s a male bed and your patient is female, still on break — well, I could on.)
So I told the primary RN to call up report. We need to move some patients in.
They won’t take report, came the reply. All the nurses are on break.
“What the hell?!? All the nurses?!?” I was incredulous. “How can all the nurses be on break?”
I called up to 5 North. “Can I speak to the charge?”
“She’s on break.”
“Can I speak to any nurse?”
“They’re all on break.”
“All of them?”
“Who’s looking after the patients?” As one might imagine, I was becoming a little agitated.
“I am,” came the reply.
“Who are you?”
“I am,” said the voice on the other end, “the nursing student.”
Dear sweet Lord, I thought. “Let me summarize,” I said. “You’re looking after 24 patients all by yourself, because all the RNs are on break?”
“Well,” said the student in a tone which made it clear she thought she was dealing with a plain idiot, “there’s a nurse sitting beside me.”
‘”Oh,” I said, thinking I had misunderstood the entire situation. “Can I speak to her?”
“No! She’s on break. I told you”
After which I lost it, just a bit. “So when your patient in 55 falls out of bed and fractures her hip because she’s been ringing the call bell for fifteen minutes because you’re trying to clean up the patient in 37, what are you going to do?”
“Oh, I’ll call the nurse to help.”
“But she’s on break!” I was nearly shouting.
Click. The student hung up on me.
Well, I thought. That didn’t go well. But then, after I went home and thought about it, wasn’t I guilty of the same bullying behaviour towards this student I have written about so critically? I heard afterwards I had reduced her to tears. Didn’t this make me the poster child for nurses eating their young? The student, after all, was not responsible for being placed in an compromising position, and being made to run interference against a nasty ED nurse (i.e. me) was fairly despicable. I should have recognized the circumstances and adjusted my own response accordingly — regardless of who answered the phone. In the heat and stress of the moments it’s all too easy to engage in awful behaviour and justify our bullying afterward in terms of providing good care or best practice. It’s all a lie. There isn’t ever justification for bullying. All I can say in my defence: I’m a work in progress. Like everyone
[Update: Yes, I misspelled “construction” in the title. I need a sub-blogger minion to proofread.]