Cartoon on courtesy of all nurses.com
After suffering through numerous brutal experiences at the hands of nurses as a student, I swore I’d do my best to encourage nursing students and ease their path. I took time to show them procedures and include them at every possible intervention.
I invited an eager nursing student to join me as I prepared to insert needles into a patient’s dialysis access prior to a treatment after getting the patient’s approval. Dialysis patients were almost invariably willing to help teach. I meticulously prepared the materials needed, scrubbed the site for needle insertion and tore tape strips to securely anchor the needles in place. The student was all eyes as I slid the needles in as painlessly as possible and the patient pronounced it a job well done. I started the treatment so it was a few minutes before we had time for conference.
“Do you have any questions?” I was prepared to explain precautions and how the needle placement was selected.
“Yes! How in the world did you learn to tear tape so straight? If I ever learn to tear tape like that I’ll know I’m a real nurse!” Her admiration took me down a notch or two.
“It’s no trick. You can do it right now.” I pulled out a roll of tape and showed her it was scored for ease in tearing.
A few months into my first nursing job, I met Michael, the patient who put me on the road to true nursing. Still limping down the painful road from enjoying success in nursing school to putting it into practice, I drove home most days thinking, “I can’t go back tomorrow. I can’t go back tomorrow.” I lived in terror of getting caught alone with a patient whose survival depended on all that “nursing magic” that had so far eluded me. Orienting on an acute dialysis unit, my only useful skills were a pretty good nursing vocabulary, understanding of aseptic technique, and the complete understanding that there was no question too stupid for me to ask. I would have never have made it if my supervisor had been one of those who “ate her young.” (terrorized new nurses)
I was assigned to care for Michael. Though I didn’t voice it, I thought Michael’s family ought to think twice before subjecting him to dialysis. He was thirty-six years old with Down’s Syndrome and its many cardiac complications, diabetic, had hepatitis B, and now needed dialysis. I worried about how he would deal with it at his three-year-old functional level. Selfishly, I dreaded caring for him, thinking he would challenge my meager nursing skills.
I could have saved my worry. Michael stole every heart in the dialysis unit. He was smiling when his mother brought him in, did everything he was asked, dealt with his pain, and was the kindest patient I ever had the privilege of caring for. I loved him dearly, and treasured every moment I got to spend with him over the short three years I had the gift of being his nurse. Thanks to Michael, I learned compassion and humility. Every soul has value and something to share.
The time I spent getting to know my patients was the best part of nursing. As a hospital dialysis nurse, during the course of a four-hour treatment, we had a lot of time to talk. One of my favorite patients was a lively little seventy-year old lady, the mother of twenty-one children. I never knew what she’d have to say. When I expressed my amazement at her having so had many, she told me, “It wasn’t so bad. I had a set of twins, so I was only pregnant twenty times.”
“You must be proud of your kids,” I answered.
“Huh,” she snorted. “Ain’t half of ’em worth the powder it’d take to blow ’em away. I gotta keep my purse right with me.”
“Oh.” I had no other response to that.
She was always full of wild tales about getting the best of her “old man” who was twenty years older than she. I inferred they had a warm relationship, but she straightened me out when I expressed my condolences at her next treatment after his death.
“Mrs. Johnson, I ‘m sorry to her of your loss. I know you must miss your husband.” I dreaded the lonely times ahead for her.
She cackled. “I’m glad that old devil from hell is gone. I thought for sure he was gonna outlive me. My daddy gave me to him when I wad’n but thirteen years old. He beat me ever’day long as he was able. I was so proud when he got old and stoved up so I could take a piece of a firewood to him any time I got ready. I mean to tell you I whooped him many a time.”
She always gave me plenty to think about.
With thirty years in nursing, you can well imagine I have my share of strange stories. I worked in acute dialysis in the hospital, so knew my patients very well. We talked about their lives, familis, dogs, whatever was on their minds. One of my favorite patients was Curtis, a huge man, perfectly delightful, but developmentally challenged. His thinking was about on the level of a eight-year-old. Curtis had somehow gotten credit at a furniture store, bought a houseful of furniture, and not made a single payment. He was being hounded for payment, so decided the best course of action was to go in the hospital, where he wouldn’t be bothered. When he told the nurse at the outpatient dialysis clinic he needed to go to the hospital, she explained he couldn’t be admitted unless sick. He did some thinking and called her back to his chair telling her he had something for her. (I can’t imagine how she fell for that.). He dropped an impressive lump of excrement into her outstretched hand and was admitted into the psychiatric unit of the hospital in short order.
He was happily ensconced at the hospital, soon moved to the medical floor. One day he walked into my unit asking for a large patient gown. He went on his way. Curtis was not on my mind when I heard a lady out in the hall exclaim. “Oh my God! Take it!” It seems she had been bringing a pecan pie to her hospitalized friend from church when she encountered seven-foot-tall Curtis, walking naked down the hall, looking for hospital staff to help him with his gown. Curtis, hadn’t seen a pecan pie in way too long. He dropped the gown, grabbed the pie and raised a clumsy fist when the poor woman resisted. She gave up on the pie and fled shrieking. Eventually, the whole thing smoothed over. Curtis had his pie and his gown. The hospital gave the lady another pecan pie and an apology. By the time Curtis got home, his furniture had been repossessed, so he wasn’t harassed any more. They all lived happily ever after, except of course for the nurse who got a handful of doo-doo.
Holidays are rough on people who work in hospitals, since you’re getting by with minimal staff. One Thanksgiving, I was performing dialysis on a patient not too long after he’d had his traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I knew exactly what he’d had because he got sick and hurled it me. By this time, I was a seasoned nurse and always had extra scrubs stowed in my locker. Without gagging, I brushed off the bigger pieces, swabbed myself with soapy towels, generally sprayed myself with disinfectant, changed clothes, and got back to work, pretty much good as new. Continue reading
i never knew who would would show up for Lolly’s dialysis treatment. Some days, Lolly was a pleasant forty-year-old black woman, intelligent, street smart, brightly- dressed and well groomed. Those were good days. Sometimes, she presented as a snotty racist older, white lady. We had to be careful on those days not to seat her near black men she might insult. I dreaded those times. They were hard on everybody on the unit. Lolly as a young black girl wrenched my heart. She was afraid of men and boys and often cried with hurt feelings. The hardest was the manic young woman who sometimes showed, convinced that dialysis would end her imagined pregnancy. I loved Lolly, and regretted leaving her when I left that job. I hope she was treated kindly.
Sometimes life serves up some incredibly sweet moments. About twenty-five years ago ,I mortally embarrassed both my high school children with no effort or planning on my part whatsoever. I was a dialysis nurse at the time. I had worked all night the night before. I had gone to bed about four that afternoon, knowing I was going to be called back. At eight-thirty in the evening the phone at my bedside rang. Jolted out of sleep, Continue reading
A few months into my first nursing job, I met Michael, the patient who put me on the road to true nursing. Still limping down the painful road from enjoying success in nursing school to putting it into practice, I drove home most days thinking, “I can’t go back tomorrow. I can’t go back tomorrow.” I lived in terror of getting caught alone with a patient whose survival depended on all that “nursing magic” that had so far sailed over on my head. Orienting on an acute dialysis unit, my only useful skills were a pretty good nursing vocabulary, understanding of aseptic technique, and the complete understanding that there was no question too stupid for me to ask. I would have never have made it if my supervisor had been one of those who “ate her young.” (terrorized new nurses) Continue reading