Why Nurses Are Not The Best Patients: A Patient Perspective

We've all heard "nurses make terrible patients," but why? Nurses do tend to wait longer to seek medical attention, often require more proof of an illness or injury before taking action and being on the receiving end of care isn't something we're prepared to accept without protest. I caught a hefty dose of patient perspective after an injury turned my world upside down, which changed my entire outlook on why nurses are not the best patients.

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First, let me explain how karma worked its unfriendly magic. While working one day, my peers and I discussed how much time we had accrued in our "sick bank" and the limited ways in which we're allowed to access it. I commented, "the only way I will ever use mine is to have surgery.” And boom, a few weeks later, I was in the hospital with multiple fractures. As I was waiting to go to the OR, I really wished I had kept my mouth shut!

An Inpatient Experience

After the procedure, I spent almost a week in the hospital. The ED nurse inside did not make it easy. I was non-weight-bearing but could not bring myself to push the call button to ask for assistance to the bathroom. I did not want to disturb the nurse or the tech. The pain was miserable, but I could not ask for the medication I knew was available on the MAR. (They would surely think I was drug-seeking, right?) I profusely apologized to the physical therapist when it took longer than I felt it should have to get dressed, the whole time thinking, "I know she has other patients to see.” When I should have been resting, I found myself wondering how many of my patients had needs that went unmet because they didn't want to bother me, were afraid of what I might think of them, or felt I had more important patients to care for.

Then I finally heard the words I had waited for all week: "You can go home today.” Unfortunately, my joy was short-lived when the surgeon followed up with, "You'll be non-weight-bearing for 12 weeks." I thought I had hallucinated; did he say twelve weeks?! Can a person cook dinner and fold laundry on one leg for twelve weeks? How was my boss going to take the news? At that moment, I realized the road to recovery was going to be a bit longer than I had wanted to admit.

Feeling Like A Burden At Home

The confidence and attitude of encouragement I knew as a nurse deserted me as soon as I took my position on the couch, propped up with pillows and my negative thoughts. I felt fearful and helpless and worried that my husband would become resentful of having to do every little thing for me and that my daughter was being forced to grow up too fast doing things I should be responsible for. Fretting became my full-time job.

Three Months Later

Three months finally passed (much more slowly than I would have preferred), and on my way to my final follow-up visit, I thought, "Yes, things will finally go back to normal!” Wrong! The surgeon gifted me with sixteen weeks of physical therapy. Oh good, something new to worry about. How was my husband going to manage his work schedule and drive me to PT three days every week? How am I going to get to my appointments and make sure someone is home when the kids get off the bus? Am I destined to be a burden to my family for the rest of my life? (Dramatic, I know.)

The PT Process

I had gone from kicking tail and taking names to being frustrated because I couldn't pick up a marble with my toes. My type A personality struggled to accept that I wasn't going to walk normally after one PT session. At least the resistance band exercises gave me something else to do on the couch besides sulk and feel sorry for myself.

What I Learned

Nurses don't make "terrible patients" because we're judging IV sticks, waiting too long to seek care, or because we're too demanding with our care needs. Nurses are lousy patients because we feel like we can't ask questions someone might think we should already know the answer to. We feel like we can't admit we need help, so we don't ask. We are used to being strong, and the feelings of powerlessness and weakness are almost more debilitating than the injury or illness itself. This experience was humbling, and it opened my eyes to aspects of patient care I had not given much thought to before. I came out a better nurse and a better person in the end, but I can assure you I will not be discussing the hours in my "sick bank" anytime soon!

CMagill has 21 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Emergency.

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VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

142 Articles; 9,979 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 20 years experience.

I'm guilty of putting off health matters myself.  Last year I fell and limped around on a fractured ankle for over a week before I gave in and went to the doctor, then followed it up with severe shortness of breath and wheezing which turned out to be due to a saddle PE. Luckily I only had to spend five days in the hospital on a heparin drip , Lovenox and warfarin, then I got to switch to Eliquis. Best of all, of course, is that I survived the PE and the ankle eventually healed. 😊