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.
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.