When teamwork takes more than the usual share of effort

I’m sweating and silently wondering how the chewing gum in my mouth has chemically changed to sand. My mouth is so dry I can barely speak. I may be silent, but thank goodness my patient is talking to me, because all his monitors and machines seem to be bleeping and bopping and malfunctioning at once.

I reach for my eyeglasses, which have become hopelessly entangled among pens, alcohol wipes, and other miscellaneous nursing paraphernalia in the jumbled pocket of my scrubs.

At the foot of the bed, a doctor’s agitation is palpable as she utters a continual stream of rhetorical questions: “Can I get a blood pressure here, Nurse? What does it take to get some numbers around here? Why does this have to take such a colossal amount of time?!”

I nod in the doctor’s general direction as I stoop over the malfunctioning equipment. As I earnestly troubleshoot the source of the problem, I remind myself that the doctor is human and obviously under a lot of pressure. We all are. This is, after all, a critical care environment. More importantly, I remind myself that it is all about the patient. It is not about me or the doctor or the noisy equipment. It is about the patient.

During frustratingly frantic scenes like this, I don’t have time to stop and consider the larger questions: What originally motivated me to enter this profession? Do I really make a difference in my patients’ lives? When was my last meal (or drink of water, or bathroom break)? And, what is that doctor’s name?

I am on autopilot, making sure that my patient stays safe and that the environment remains conducive to positive patient care. I take a deep breath as I gingerly disentangle my glasses and place them on my nose. Clarity at last! I ignore the clamor of pens and alcohol wipes as they fall unceremoniously to the floor. The doctor stares at the tiny mess and shrugs.

After I reset and recalculate the machines, I reassure my patient as I straighten out all of his lines and cords. Soon all the equipment is up and running, purring like a kitten. Success! We have a blood pressure reading! The patient is stable. I give the doctor a smile of shared relief.

“I don’t know how you nurses do it!” The doctor sighs, but she does not return my smile. This is as close as I will get to an apology. “It makes me crazy just watching you deal with all those lines and cables and all that noise! I wouldn’t have your job for all the money in the world.”

Obviously nurses don’t do it for the money. I believe that most of us love what we do. I adore my patients, and savor the knowledge that I make a difference at the end of the day. I was drawn to nursing because it is my passion, even when machines get testy, I miss an occasional break, or a colleague loses her cool.

Sure there are days like this when teamwork takes more than the usual share of effort. Maybe everyone is having a bad day: me with my unruly scrub pockets, the machines with their incessant malfunctioning alarms, and the doctor with her over-the-top stress.  Still, we are all on the same team, each doing our part to provide the best for our patients.

In fact, in addition to the patients, it is often the teamwork and camaraderie within the medical team that keeps me going. It is the knowledge that we are all here, as skilled and caring healthcare professionals, to make a difference in the lives of our patients.

I am fortunate to work in a positive setting where it is rare for a doctor or nurse to lose her cool. Most of the time we function like a well-oiled, even jovial, machine. Sure, bad days sometimes happen, but I plan to maintain my smile, whether or not I see it returned.

Laura Webb is a critical care nurse who blogs at NurseConnect.com.

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