Friday, January 17, 2014

A Little Humor in the Workplace

Stories as witnessed from the front of a police car. Stories from the back of the ambulance. Stories straight from the streets of D.C. to the waiting room of the ER and straight into the lives of the ER nurse. So many stories we wish HIPPA didn't prevent us from sharing. So many names and specific details must be changed without paper documentation. The smiles and the tears of so many are equally witnessed and shared by the staff of the ER.

To truly be a good healthcare provider, you must learn the balance of empathy (putting yourself in your patient’s shoes) and protecting yourself from an overload of emotional stress. So much emotion is transferred and dumped on healthcare providers, particularly the nurses. So much that at the end of a stretch of shifts we can become the most selfish, anti-social creatures known to mankind. I joke that at the end of my “week” I don’t want anyone to look at me, talk to me, and especially not call me nurse! Between those feelings and the incredibly flattering scrubs we live in, the fantasies about nurses have been successfully de-railed. We go home after twelve to fourteen hour shifts completely exhausted, grubby, and often not wanting to tactfully interact.

This occupation, although emotionally draining, certainly has so many moments that are incredibly touching and humorous-some of which can be altered to share with the general public.
*Disclaimer: if you have a weak stomach, you should probably stop now. Also if the following stories allow you to have a revelation that you no longer wish to be associated with me, I will not take it personally. We nurses are a strange breed!

An elderly gentleman came into the ER with the delicate subject of a urinary/penile problem. In situations like this, the staff subconsciously switches into super-professional mode in an attempt to make the patient as comfortable as possible. We made small talk as I assisted the seventy something year-old man out of the wheelchair. We shuffled to the bedside and I asked him to “sit your hiney down right here”. He looked at me a bit confused, then did as I asked. With his feet still dangling off the bed, I began strategically formulating the question of encouraging him to get his pants off. He had been quite the literalist on the way back from triage and I assumed it would be a delicate question. I indicated with my hands and stumbled with my words over a sort of, “And let’s just slide these down and slip you into a gown.” The elderly man looked at me and said, “No, I want you to say it!” Startled and surrounded by my colleagues, I asked “Sir, what exactly would you like me to say?” “I want you to ask me to take my pants off, D#$% it! It’s not every day I get to hear a pretty lady like you say those words!!!”

One more to hold you over.

As I walked into the room of a “frequent flier” with a known extensive drug history, I was greeted by the expected, “You might as well call the experts, I have no veins and I’m a very hard stick!!!” If I had a nickle for every time I hear that…. As always, I reassured the patient that if I did not see anything, I would not attempt but instead find someone else. As it was not an emergency situation, this was appropriate. The patient wanted to know my credentials so I shared them with her and emphasized my internship with phlebotomy. This seemed to sincerely satisfy her. Wait, before I go any further it is imperative for the reader to understand my angle...well, view. This is a 300+ pound woman covered in scar tissue from years of drug abuse to her body. There is a strong odor in the room and on closer examination a white something oozes from her skin folds. I stop examining as I am about to get up close and personal and need to focus on tasks. Returning to the story, she became excited as she realized we were both on the upper echelon of establishing intravenous access. Before I could pull the curtain, she enthusiastically threw her gown over one shoulder, then followed that with flinging her rather well endowed left breast over and strained to point out one lonely vein no longer hidden by the mass of tissue. After a brief moment of shock, I realized how impressively well this woman new her body. I asked if she would mind if I introduced myself and listened to her lungs first, then proceeded to start the IV-exactly where she said. Sure enough, a great IV was established and the patient was happy. One thing I have learned in my profession is to listen to the patient.

A little dose of humor never hurt any profession. In one where the awkward and raw humanity is often on display and being carefully scrutinized, it is wonderful to have the moments like this where the tension is briefly released.

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