From at bedside to in the bed: a nurse turned patient

As many of you know, I spent the majority of the month of March at sick. What I originally assumed to be food poisoning from an omelette at a breakfast, turned out to be an extremely nasty stomach virus. Within a matter of two days, I went from laying in my own bed to being admitted into the hospital closest to my home.

Being a patient in the hospital is such a different feeling than being the one taking care of patients. I’ve been in the hospital before, and experienced my fair share of medical care, but never as both a patient and a nurse.

I noticed the littlest things in the hospital, from the stress level of the unit PCA juggling 20 patients on her own, to the kindness of the paramedic who encouraged me while I drank three cups of CT contrast while nauseous (I don’t recommend this experience to anyone). I felt the true appreciation for my GI who allowed me to have clear liquids and gave me a cup of ginger ale, against the judgment of the internist who wanted to keep me NPO for days. And I felt the meaning of caring when a student nurse came in to check on me when no one else on the floor wanted to step in to my room.

I also noticed a lot of the nasty sides of healthcare and how much patients can be overlooked. I was severely dehydrated when I entered the ER (for those in medical, my CO2 was 13- fun stuff, right?). I was given bags upon bags of fluid, but at one point when my IV pump beeped, a nurse stopped it and walked away. I sat for 40 minutes trying to get my own nurse’s attention to restart the pump, but I was ignored. When my dad approached the nurses station to say something, he was told if he didn’t like the way they did things, he could leave.

Hearing a health professional say that out loud was like a slap in the face. I could never imagine speaking to a patient or a loved one that way. As nurses, we are taught to be caring, compassionate and understanding. Where was that compassion? Where was the family centered care we are supposed to emphasize? I was hoping once I left my 13 hour stay in ER and received individual care on the floor I would see it, but it sadly did not occur.  

It really didn’t help my case that I was admitted due to a virus that occurs in pediatric patients. Lesson for all: just because they say only kids can get something, doesn’t mean it’s true. But because of that, quite a few of the nurses did not know how to handle caring for me in my room. I know from my own personal experience that any sort of gastroenteritis receives contact isolation and all healthcare personnel wear a gown. So I have to say I was surprised (and a little scared) when my first nurse walked in wearing a respirator and full on isolation suit. “Was my diagnosis 10 times worse than what the doctor said? Are they hiding something from me? Why is he acting like I have ebola?” were the thoughts that began racing through my head as he told me to explain my virus to my family. It certainly didn’t ease my anxiety when he refused to come within a few feet of me to speak or give me medications. I was instructed to even stretch out my arm past the bed when it was time for my IV to be flushed.

I was lucky enough that the other nurses were a lot kinder and my stay wasn’t long, but as a nurse watching from the other side, it was not a good experience. After spending a month thinking about my hospitalization and reflecting on the experience, I’ve come up with a few things we all need to remember in every patient encounter

  1. Patients and their families are stressed, scared and vulnerable. Always be kind and keep them informed on every step of the plan of care.
  2. If you aren’t familiar with an admitting diagnosis, look it up! It’s better to be educated and enter a room with information (including patient education) so everyone has a better idea of what is going on. Asking a patient to explain their diagnosis to their family is NOT the way to do it.
  3. As much as I made fun of it in school, therapeutic touch is so important. It wasn’t until I experienced someone being afraid to touch me that I realized I would have appreciated a hand on my shoulder telling me I would be okay.
  4. Treat every patient and family as you would treat your own family member. If you were caring for your own family you would provide respect and kindness. You’ll give each patient the care they truly need.
  5. Remember that every small encounter and bit of comfort counts. You may not think it’s a big deal to provide someone with an extra pillow or a cup of juice, but to the person in the bed, it could mean the entire world to them. Appreciate all the little moments and victories with them.
  6. If there is a way you can help a patient alleviate their anxiety, do it! A positive healing environment is essential for healing, and you are the person who can truly provide that.
  7. Stay kind. Stay caring.

As much as I did not enjoy being a patient, I do think it was helpful for me to see the other side of things. I now keep all of these things in mind when caring for my kiddos and I work to give them 110% every shift so they feel calm, comfortable and safe with me.  Being a patient has absolutely turned me into a better nurse, so for that, I’m thankful.

P.S. how long does it take for an IV scar to go away? Asking for a friend.