Recently, a nurse at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles noticed that comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s newborn baby had a murmur and was cyanotic and brought it to the newborn intensive care unit for further evaluation. That triggered a rush of activity that led to a diagnosis of a congenital heart defect and heart valve problem and surgery to save the baby’s life.
Here’s what the public doesn’t understand: Nurses do this every day. We save lives. We are there twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week watching over your loved ones. We are the ones who notice trouble on the horizon. We trigger the alarm that leads to intervention to often save your life. Our years of experience can make the difference between life and death.
I’m going to talk us up now. The truth is, nurses are the backbone of the health care system. We are the reason it has not collapsed completely. We hold it up. We hold it up as it gets increasingly complicated, more demanding, all-consuming for those working in it.
The public has no idea what we really do. They still see us in the old white uniform, nurse cap era. We are the comforters, the soothers, the bed pan carriers, food tray passers, bed makers. Those days have been gone for a long time.
Today, we manage complex patients in the intensive care unit who would die without all the sophisticated technology around them, keeping them alive. Who is managing all that? The nurse. We keep tiny premature babies alive in the newborn intensive care unit. We manage your cardiac arrest in the emergency room, your life-threatening gunshot wound. We deal with an overwhelmed mental health system, often dealing with violent patients. We make sure the condition you were admitted with doesn’t worsen, that surgery you had doesn’t have complications. Out of the hospital, we try very hard to keep you out of the hospital in clinics. We care for your mom and dad in nursing homes.
My job is overwhelming. It changes daily. It gets harder daily. People like you demand more of me daily. I am emotionally, mentally, physically exhausted when I go home a lot of the time. Many people go to school to be a nurse, start a job, then quit because it is too hard. It is, but fortunately many choose to stay.
I could not do this job without the many colleagues who I work with: LPNs, nursing assistants, EMTs, admitting departments, dietary departments, housekeeping, pharmacies, radiology, etc. Lastly, without the physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants who answer the alarm I trigger, none of this would make any difference.
My job is complicated. I’ve made that clear. Probably the most important thing I do is not very complicated: I comfort you, reassure you, sometimes hold your hand, tell you everything will be all right. I stand there with your wife, husband, children, friend, or by myself, just a presence, so you won’t be alone. Out of all the things I do in this complicated medical world, that’s my most important job.
The author is an anonymous emergency room nurse who blogs at madness: tales of an emergency room nurse.
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