Friday the 13th I became a patient at the hospital where I work. I had a robotic total hysterectomy with salpingectomy and cystoscopy. After years of battling endometriosis, and recently bleeding, pain and fibroid issues I decided it was time for the worn out organ to go.
Being on the other side of the patient/nurse relationship is strange. I joked on social media that I felt like a spy. I did, but not with intentions of busting anyone. Just more like an undercover agent gathering intel. I noticed some things I’ll take with me with when I go back to work. The main thing I noticed was the obvious: I was the patient, someone else was my nurse. I bring this up because when you’re the nurse, it’s easy to distance yourself from the patient and when you have to be the patient you get a reminder of how human we all are. Nurses, we are our patients. Our bodies get diseases and we have surgeries, we need medical care. We don’t seek out medical care as much as non-nurses. We tend to care for our own needs and avoid being the patient.
There are many problems in healthcare and nurses feel the weight of those problems. But what motivates us to do the difficult work we do is a genuine care and concern for the health and well-being of people. And those people include us. Nurses, we need to take care of our bodies, because our bodies are the ones caring for other bodies. And we need to embrace, encourage, guide and teach new nurses, because they are taking care of us!
When I was admitted to pre-op on Friday a PCA, new to pre-op checked me in, gave me a warm, anti-microbial sponge bath, and then she realized I didn’t have an armband on. She ran to the desk to print one, verified my name and date of birth and put it on… inside out. She apologized, I assured her it was no big deal. She fixed it and we went on to verifying what I was having done, applying my SCD’s (which by the way I love, and want to own… it’s like a leg massage while you sleep!). Then the overhead announcement came that the hospital is in “downtime”, which means the computers don’t work and you’ll have to document everything on paper. The nurse and PCA bemoaned the fact that this was going to mess their day up, and rushed to print labels so they could draw my blood before the printer stopped working.
In the midst of the nurse and PCA discussing the trouble with their downtime situation, the anesthesiologist popped his head in from behind the curtain, said he’d be doing my anesthesia, had to go to another case first but would be back. He’s the one I was praying for. If the anesthesiologist doesn’t get it right, things go bad fast.
Once the IV was in and the labels were printed and the circulating nurse for the operating room spoke with me, verifying all my important information, the gynecologist doing my hysterectomy came in and sat down on my bed, put her hand on my leg and assured me of what was going to happen and how long and such. My husband left my side with a kiss on the forehead and versed being pushed into my veins. I remember the O.R. Getting on the table, a mask on my face, hearing the voice of my doctor and nurse telling me to go to the beach for awhile. And the next thing I knew I was shivering, moaning and hurting in the recovery room.
In the recovery room for 4 hours, waiting for a bed to open up in the hospital for me, I was in and out of shivering episodes, and drugged sleep. Somewhere in there my doctor talked to me about the surgery… I vaguely remember images on a paper and the word endometriosis.
When I got to my room on the postpartum unit, the pain, shivering and nausea had taken over. Between dry heaves, my nurse asked me the admission profile questions, the lab came in to draw my blood, the CNA took my vital signs, two nurses came to check out my skin and look at my incision sites and noticed that my left hand was very swollen- my IV had infiltrated. And then I had to pee. That didn’t go so good. In fact it didn’t go at all. The nurse called my physician, attempted to drain my bladder with a straight cath (attempted, is the key word here… 3 times to be exact). For the next two hours I tried to breath, reposition myself in some tollerable position in that bed with those flat, plastic pillows and text family members and friends who were wondering how I was. The nurse tried a couple times to start an IV with no success, so the house supervisor came to my rescue with one swift poke to my left bicep. By 9 pm, I was throwing up, still couldn’t pee, three more attempts later, a congregant of nurses had a successfully placed a foley catheter so my bladder could empty. The last time I had that many nurse looking at that part of my body I was having a baby. Humbled, medicated, poked everywhere I could be, I hunkered in the fetal position and prayed for gas to pass, urine to flow and my pain to back off enough that I could sleep a few hours. I got two.
At 6 am, when the Foley catheter came out and the male student nurse came in with his preceptor, the countdown began: When I could pee, eat without puking and walk down the hall I could go home. By noon I had accomplished all three. The discharging nurse reviewed my medications, discharge instructions and precautions with me and my husband wheeled me to the car.
Things have improved tremendously in the past 24 hours. And I’ve been thinking a lot about how nursing is caring for other people. People like me. I’ve run across patients in the hospital who seem to forget their doctor’s and nurse’s are people just like them. They get sick, have headaches, fight diabetes, high blood pressure, endometriosis, cancer, have surgery. They don’t know all the answers. But they are in the position of doctor and nurse to help the person in the bed get to a place where they can go home and feel better. Nurse’s we need to remember our patients are people just like us. Patient’s your nurse is a person just like you. We all have needs at times that require the help of others. The nurses and doctors who cared for me weren’t perfect, but they were caring and did what they could to help me. And I’m so thankful! I needed their help.
When I go back to work in a few weeks I’ll be the nurse not the patient, but being the patient this past week has given me a more relaxed view of what I do. In all the pressure to perform it’s so important to give each other the grace, forgiveness and accountability imperfect people need. Patient’s need our help. And nurses are not perfect. But what we do for our fellow man to help them gain strength, function, dignity… it’s very God honoring. We nurses care for people made in the image of God. And sometimes we’re the people being cared for.