It's also not unusual to find nurses believing that they are above the rules when the tables turn on them. One rule we reinforce to patients and families
is not to touch or handle the pumps and machines around them. When one of my colleagues had still not gone to the bathroom twelve hours after his surgery,
his nurse and doctor discussed inserting a foley catheter--that is, a tube through his urethra into his bladder to drain it.
"Give me until 7 am. If I don't go by then, you can put it in," he bargained.
They reluctantly conceded. As soon as he was alone, he reached to the pump that was infusing fluids through his IV. After a fleeting pause of guilt, he
cranked up the rate to 3 times what it was set at. His plan to over-hydrate himself was not the right or safe answer, but luckily he woke up at 4 AM with
an overwhelming urge to relieve himself. He knew it didn't necessarily happen as a result of his medical manipulation, but was desperate to avoid any
discomfort down there.
Nurses also make their caretakers work hard to earn their trust -- harder than they really need to sometimes. One of my coworkers has no shame in
interrogating her own doctors on their credibilities, and doesn't take them seriously unless she approves of their medical school, residency, and
fellowship (fellowships are a given in her book). Another nurse I work with frequently trains new graduates and employees. When it comes to education and
advancing the nursing profession, she is always at the front line.
Except when it was her turn to have a breathing tube placed for a surgery. As she was signing consent for this, she looked suspiciously at the badge of the
woman obtaining her signature. The woman was a nurse anesthetist.
"I totally respect your profession. But I would feel more comfortable with a physician intubating me," she said.
The nurse anesthetist was slightly taken aback, but offered to speak to the fellow to see if he could do it.
"Actually I'd like the attending to do it," my co-worker responded.
So much for promoting the nursing profession. Or even encouraging the general endeavors of a teaching hospital -- she dismissed every step on the learning
ladder by only trusting the attending.
But in this scenario, she was on the receiving end of care, and totally out of her element. Just as I felt when that coffee table fell on my toe. Our
comfort zone is nurturing patients and serving as the foils to their fear. When we step out of it and into a position of fear ourselves, we lose our way.
Some a little more than others. And some not at all. But for those who do, their healthcare providers should remember -- nurses are generally good, warm,
loving people. They might just have passive-aggressive tendencies when they feel anxious, that's all.
As for me, I'd like to think I learned from their stories. If I am ever in a state of vulnerability again -- or rather, when I am -- I'll do my best to stay calm and cool, to be an easy patient.
As long as everything goes my way, of course.