Nightingale Tales

My new project involves interviewing my classmates from nursing school. We “older nurses” are dying off. Who will be around to tell our stories?

As I gear up to start this project, I’m educating myself in the art of interviewing. In the meantime, a serendipitous thing happened. Lynn Dow, RN, wrote about her long career in nursing in a new book: Nightingale Tales: Stories from My Life as a Nurse.

Lynn Dow entered nursing school in 1956, three years before I did. She attended the diploma program at the University of Rochester, which like my diploma program at Saint Peter’s School of Nursing in New Brunswick, New Jersey was three years long without any summer vacation breaks. The stories she shares of her nursing school days entertained me the most since my experiences so mirrored hers.

In her book, she reminded me that after a patient went home we had to strip the bed and then wash it. Yes, the plastic coated mattress and exposed metal coil springs were washed by hand. When the bed dried, we made it up for the next patient. There were no housekeepers at this time. Two cranks at the foot of the bed were used to raise up the head or to “gatch” the knees so the patient wouldn’t slide down. Later, a third crank was added that raised or lowered the bed. I remember having black and blue marks on my shins from hitting the cranks that were left on the bed instead of taken off and stored somewhere, like on a window sill.

Lynn recalls when cardio-pulmonary resuscitation was still in its infancy, a surgeon might bypass this effort and “crack the chest.” This rarely was successful. Once when I worked in the recovery room my patient went into cardiac arrest. Her surgeon dragged her off the stretcher to the floor, cut her open and pumped her heart with his bare hands. She was an old woman and I felt at the time he did this for the experience rather than to revive her.

Commonly, student nurses staffed the hospitals because there was a shortage of registered nurses, and students were a cheap substitute. In the third year of school, students were put in charge of a ward on the evening or night shifts. Lynn reminds the reader that the student nurses were “teenagers, too green to realize the extent of our responsibilities.” Sometimes the students worked a “split shift,” covering baths and meds in the a.m. and returning to help with dinner trays and get the patients ready for bed in the evening. Before I graduated from nursing school this “abuse” of student nurses was no longer allowed.

Nightingale Tales goes on to cover Lynn’s long nursing career and is filled with educational information and surprising vignettes. While I am especially glad she shows us nursing in the “olden days,” her book also depicts the advancements in current nursing practice. But she feels that possibly “the nurturing aspect of nursing has given way to technology.”

Read her book and decide for yourself.

Nurses Unite But Is It Enough?

I have been following the brouhaha over the derogatory comments made by Joy Behar on The View about Kelly Johnson, Miss Colorado and a nurse.

I last saw the Miss America pageant sometime in my preteen years and caught snippets of The View as I surfed channels years ago so I am no expert on either venue. However, what I do know is that Ms. Johnson came on stage dressed in scrubs with a stethoscope around her neck during the talent part of the Miss America Pageant on Sunday September 13th and spoke about her love of nursing rather than dance, or sing, or play the trombone. Her concluding statement was “I’m a life saver. I’m never going to be ‘just a nurse.’”

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=r26JmQz1uUY

The next day on The View her performance was the subject of mean, gossipy and clueless remarks made by the hosts, such as she wore a “costume” and a “doctor’s stethoscope,” and seemed like she was “reading her emails.”

You may be aware of all of this. And like me you were proud to see nurses pull together communicating under the hashtag #NursesUnite and demanding an apology for demeaning the nursing profession.

Nurses got results. The women from The View did attempt an apology. It may have been too little, too late since two sponsors have pulled out (Johnson & Johnson and Eggland’s Best) and there is momentum afoot to terminate of the program.

I was feeling pretty good about the power of nurses’ collective voice.Then I read this open letter on allnurses.com by a disillusioned nurse. I try to keep my posts short but I think this letter needs to be read in its entirety.

An open letter in response to #NursesUnite movement:

It is amazing that you have finally found a cause to unite over (#nursesunite), however, I find it hard to jump on board this superficial bandwagon that actually serves the nursing profession no purpose whatsoever.

I have pondered over the last week why it is that so many nurses take such offense to the few words of an ignorant television host, being that Ms. Behar has zero impact or influence on the healthcare profession or the role of nursing, yet they do nothing to end the many real issues plaguing the nursing profession.

The only conclusion that I can come up with is that nurses feel that they can’t do much to change the real problems in nursing, so they unite and attack over something that really makes no difference at all to us as a whole.

There are so many other REAL aspects of the nursing profession to unite over to influence change that will actually make a difference to nursing. There are many “dirty secrets” of nursing that go unspoken and ignored, many of which are cultivated by nurses themselves.Bullying, horizontal violence, inadequate training, nurses “eating their young”, 12+ hour shifts, no breaks, high acuities, too many patients per nurse, etc.

I went into nursing because I like to help people. I am empathetic. I am a quick thinker. I am smart. But that isn’t actually what makes a nurse successful in this profession, as I have come to find out. As I have come to find out, nursing has less to do with how competent or compassionate you are, and more to do with how much you can, or are willing to, put up with. The nursing culture is full of “suck it ups” and “oh well, it is how it is.”

What seems to make a nurse successful is the ability to withstand bullying, intimidation, being talked down to by supervisors, patients, family members, and doctors. The ability to get over inadequate training and support provided by management and your peers and to be okay with unsafe (patient) to nurse ratios. You’ll feel more confident in time, it’s just a part of nursing.

To be successful in nursing, you have to be okay with having zero time to take a break (even a bathroom break) and most times, taking your lunch sometimes 8 hours past your start time, or sometimes not even getting a lunch. You have to be okay with being dehydrated while hanging patient’s IV bags and shaking from not being able to take a break and eat while you are checking diabetic’s blood sugars and teaching the importance of proper urinary hygiene to avoid UTIs while you’ve been holding your own urine for the past 5 hours. Nurses are expected to just be okay with it. It’s just a part of nursing, right?

You have to be okay with coming in early to “get familiar” with your patient load and not getting paid for that time. You have to be okay with staying well past your shift to give report on a regular basis, taking your total time on the clock (and off) well into 14-15 hours, which means that you are so tired driving home that you hope you make it there without crashing because your brain is tired mush. But long shifts are just a part of nursing.

You have to be okay with having to do more with less, even if it affects patient safety and outcomes. You have to be okay with doctors yelling at you and treating you like you’re an incompetent idiot rather than a professional colleague in health care. You know that if you call a doctor to clarify orders or to update on your mutual patient, you may be met with disdain and sarcasm. But that’s okay too, because it’s just a part of nursing.

Nurses know this to be true. Nurses know these are the dirty secrets of nursing. Nurses know that bullying is rampant. Yet, the answer to this problem is “grow a thicker skin” or “you’ll just get used to it”.

Nurses know that understaffing is a given and that high acuity and high patient loads per nurse is more common than not. Nurses know this isn’t safe, they know the care being given isn’t what it should or could be, but they do not unite together against it and demand change.

Nurses know that there is often a lack of adequate training and preceptorship for new grads and new employees entering new specialty areas and that too many times nurses get thrown to the wolves and it’s a sink or swim mentality. But, this is just a part of nursing we accept.

Nurses know this. They live it. They experience it. It is the culture of nursing. Yet, there is no call to end it. No hash tag. No selfies. No viral campaign on social media. No standing up to it. Just the continued mentality that these things are just a part of nursing that you have to accept or leave.

So, instead of uniting together against something or someone that has no impact on nursing, why not stand up and unite against the things that are killing the nursing profession and demand they change?

Sincerely,

A disillusioned nurse

I hope that nurses’ collective voice only grows stronger and wields the power it possesses to effect positive change in the nursing profession.

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