I became a nurse two years ago as a "second career" (although I never really made a career from my first degree, a Bachelors in psychology). Since becoming a nurse, I had never had any major surgery, nor had I ever had to stay in the hospital. Until the birth of my third child.
Unlike my first two children, I ended up having an emergency cesarean section and felt the utter helplessness that can come from having a procedure that you didn't expect or ever want to have. I cried as they rushed me to the OR, because my baby's heart rate dropped to 40 and I was convinced that he was dead. (Thankfully, not only was he still alive but totally healthy, not even needing to go to NICU). I was in shock and didn't even feel it as they inserted an epidural (because up until that point, I had been going through contractions without any pain medication and had been doing fine) and a foley catheter. I didn't really hear much when they asked me to sign the consent (because how am I going to say no when I was convinced my baby was dead?). I do remember somebody telling me to try and stop crying because I needed to breathe for the baby. And I remember looking for my husband, who came once they had prepped me for surgery. I had never felt so helpless in my entire life as I did when I was lying on the operating table. Thankfully my baby's heart rate had gone back to normal once I had gotten to the OR, and he was okay after he was finally out into the world.
It was an interesting perspective, to be a patient in the hospital after being a nurse. Here are the things I experienced/learned/relearned during my short stay at the hospital:
I hate the pain scale:
I have never experienced pain as I did when I had my c-section. All women experience labor pains differently, and for me, labor pains were a cakewalk compared to the pain I had after surgery. It was truly 10 out of 10 pain. What I never realized, however, was how annoying that question is. How can you tell which pain is 7 compared to 9? For me, it was either "extremely painful" or "slightly more tolerable." But to distinguish between the numbers was really annoying. I began to think that maybe it was annoying for my patients as well.
Pain is serious business:
As I said, I was in serious pain after my c-section. I had never felt pain like it before. I couldn't even lift my baby in or out of his bassinet after he was born. Things that were so simple, like readjusting my position in bed, were suddenly excruciatingly painful. Despite my very real pain, however, I realized that I actually felt guilty for having to call my nurse for help, and for asking for pain medicine every few hours. I felt like I had to justify my request for pain medicine, or apologize for bothering her because she might be busy. I realized how important it is for us as nurses to never make our patients feel guilty for asking for help, no matter how busy we are. We also must try not to make assumptions about how much pain a patient is in, because everyone expresses pain in a different way. While some are very vocal about their pain, others (like me) might be quieter about it. We "grit our teeth and bear it" because we don't want to seem like a burden, or we are afraid of taking too much pain medication. Pain assessment, and trying our best to manage our patients' pain, is a very important part of our job as nurses.
Hospitals are the worst!
I love working at a hospital, but I hate being there as a patient. It is impossible to get decent sleep, the food is different from what you are used to, and there is a loss of control and a feeling of helplessness when you are a patient in the strange environment called the hospital. I was admitted Thursday night, had the c-section Friday evening, and by Sunday morning, when the nurse asked me if I wanted to leave that day or stay until Monday, I jumped at the chance to leave as soon as possible. All I wanted to do is be at home, and I know that most of my patients feel the same way. I was grateful, however, to have nurses who were nothing but nice and considerate the entire time I was there at the hospital.
We all have our days of being stressed and tired as nurses. We get caught up in checking lab values and passing our medications on time and doctors who are mean or patients who snap at us or take up a lot of our time or family members who are rude, and we sometimes forget what it must be like for our patients to be in the hospital. Being a patient, even for such a short time, reminded me of how I need to always try to see things from my patient's perspective and to always try to put myself in their shoes, no matter what happens during my crazy day at work. And it reminded me to always be grateful to have a job where I can make a difference, even a small one, in people's lives.