I was writing a progress note today on a cardiac step-down unit when my concentration was shattered by a booming voice coming through the patient-call system. An 60 y/o gentleman (for lack of a better word)exclamied, "Send my girl down here nawh! (southern slang for "now"). The nurse at the nurses' station, who was working overtime to cover a shortage of nurses, looked puzzled. She replied, "Sir, I was not aware that you had a daughter. Anyway, she isn't here just now". He shouted back, "Don't be a dumbass! I ain't talkin' bout my daughter! Send me that damn nurse!" Now before I go any further, I should explain that this patient was alert and oriented, and could ambulate easily on his own. He could easily feed himself, (although he was NPO) and could walk to the bathroom without difficulty
He was scheduled for a cardiac cath later that day. So what did he want so desperately? He wanted the nurse to hand him a damn magazine that was sitting in a chair five feet from his bed. I couldn't help but intervene, and I'm sure I'll catch criticism for this. I walked down to his room and without introducing myself, I said, "Lets get something straight! This person is a highly respected RN within this hospital, and she is not AND WILL not be addressed as your girl! It is clear that she is of no relation to you! Secondly, THIS IS NOT A FIVE STAR HOTEL! You can and will ambulate on your own!! That means that when you have to go to the bathroom, get a magazine, or scratch yourself, YOU WILL BE THE ONE WHO DOES IT AT THIS POINT IN THE GAME! These nurses are not your handmaiden, and they are NOT at your beck and call. Each nurse cares for 12 patients with very little assitance, and every patient on this floor is in far worse shape than you are! Am I absolutey clear?!
Now before I catch hell for that, let me say this. I know that the concepts of "compassion", "going the extra mile" and "giving that patient an extra five minutes even though your feet are aching and your back is about to break" are all very sweet and are inherent traits of the "genuine" nurse. But lets be realistic. I worked as a critical care nurse in several states (as a traveler) before I pursued an advanced degree. Thus, while it may seem that patients like this are the exception, I know that they are rapidly becoming the rule. Although being a hospitalized patient is not fun, there is absolutely no excuse for patients or families to treat nurses with disrespect. The "turn the other cheek" rule is crap. Verbal abuse and condescending attitudes towards nurses have become worse every year for the past several years. Regardless of the nursing shortage or other factors, there is no excuse for this. In fact, the nursing shortage should generate more respect for these nurses. However, I feel that the general public perceives staff nurses (and particuarly floor nurses) as handmaidens and mindless recorders of blood pressures. This mentality is unfounded and very unfortunate. Maybe I'm crazy, (and if you read this far, let me know if I'm wrong), but I think that part of the problem is a image problem of nursing that stems from the media. Medical shows such as E.R. and Gideon's Crossing have become the rage over the years. Particuarly "E.R.". How many times has that show ever portrayed the nursing profession in a positive light? I honestly can't remember one show. I do remember shows that illustrate nurses as being jealous of physicians, and a show that illustrated nurses as "gossip queens". Numerous shows have shown the general public as being "authoritarian" and certainly condescending, but not one time have I seen one of these nurse actors make a stand. Does a movie such as "Meet the Parents" do much for the promotion of nursing? Please..The bottom line is this. The public, (in general) associates nursing with bed pans, bed baths, and "fetching some water". While these are all a part of nursing, other aspects include critical thinking and excellent skills. Yet, rarely, if ever, is this noticed. One more thing. I know that there are numerous patients (and families) that appreciate the care that you provide, as well they should. But this type of patient (and family) is a malignant tumor that continues to grow with time. If you read this far, thanks. If I'm way off base, don't be afraid to let me know.