I went to acknowledge a new order that had popped up, and as I stared at my computer screen the little voice in my head whispered, I don’t think that’s right. I mean, it was the right physician, the right medicine, and it went along with the patient’s diagnosis, but I just wasn’t sure. The dose seemed awful aggressive for the patient’s current clinical presentation, so I decided to question it. Turns out the ordering doctor did not want that particular order for my patient, and it had been ordered in error. Go me, right?
The thing is accidents happen, people are human, and as humans they make mistakes. Doctors make mistakes and so do nurses, but as the frontline caregiver the ball is always in my court. This led me to consider that patients may not realize we as nurses don’t just blindly do whatever we’re told. Here’s a handful of things you may not realize about your nurse.
1. We question every order that comes across our screen. That’s right. We don’t simply follow doctor’s orders, but we consider if they are correct, safe, and in your best interest. We know the policies for administration, and we know the possible interactions with other medications. This comes in very handy when you have a group of different physicians on your case who might not be communicating effectively with one another.
Over the years I’ve caught mistakes missed by doctors, pharmacists, or both. It’s not to say I’m perfect. My partners in the healthcare system carry a huge weight in the way of patient numbers. I’ve made my share of snafus too, but as the last point of care in the delivery system the responsibility falls on me. To put it simply, if I’m shooting it in your vein I want to make sure I should. So if you’ve ever thought your nurse was an overpaid pill pusher, think again. They’re actually keeping you from serious, potential harm. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m compensated enough for this burden of responsibility, but other days I get cake, so I guess it evens out.
2. And if I don’t know what something is that’s ordered for you, I figure it out. I look it up, I research it. So once again it comes down to proceeding in your best interest, and if you’ve ever wondered why it takes your nurse so long to deliver your medications or treatments this is a reason why. Yes, nurses know a lot of medications, but the drug industry is constantly evolving and making new medicines. A human brain can only hold so much information, so many times your nurse is researching that new med you’re ordered to make sure it’s safe. We’re checking compatibility, side effects, allergies, and possible complications.
But we don’t stop at just pharmacology. We’re educating ourselves constantly on an ever-changing healthcare system so that we can deliver the latest innovations to you. We’re learning more about your disease process and asking “why” you’re sick and “how” we can make you better faster. And all this time you thought we were playing on Facebook.
3. So it’s not that I’m rude or mean. Like when I seem rushed or hurried to leave your room, it’s not because I’m bored or annoyed with you. It’s actually this reality of having a specific load of patients beyond just one. A specific load of patients that requires a very specific approach. A load of very different patients with very different diagnoses, and very different medications, all of which must be handled on an indivialized, thorough, and safe manner of delivery. I’m not hurrying off to lunch, I’m hurrying off to give care that’s almost overdue.
4. But you’re not just another task, another number, or another nameless patient on our to-do list. I know it may feel that way sometimes in all the hustle and bustle, but you’re more. Personally, as the child of a chronically ill parent, I see most older women like they’re my mother. She has passed away, but I see her at the bedside in so many ways. When I approach my patients I see fathers before me, and I consider that it could be my spouse or my child in that hospital bed just as easy. Most nurses see you this way.
5. Because we’re human too. Even though we put it all down to take care of your family, we have our own family. We have sick parents, or perhaps a spouse with a chronic health condition. We have children with a cancer diagnosis, or we carry our own debilitating disease you cannot see. And when we see our patient at the bedside we see all that. We see humanity. In case you ever wondered.
Nurses are complex creatures that carry a wealth of knowledge in their heads, a weight of responsibility on their shoulders, and a hefty burden for others in their heart. Hopefully that’s something that you now know.