We are back in the Holiday Season again friends, and the flavor of the month is kindness and giving.
You see it on commercials, billboards, and soda cans. The hospital is full of potlucks and gift exchanges. You may be getting ready for your holiday party and trying to find the right outfit that is not scrubs or yoga pants. It can be a cheery time when looking from the outside of the unit.
But in your department, it is probably a different story.
The census is high. Patients are sick. Staffing is short. There is no time to sit, pee or hardly stuff any of that potluck food in your mouth between call lights and IV pumps sounding off.
We are all busy in the winter. It’s a fact. Nurses wear their fun scrubs and Christmas light necklaces that shine so brightly, but their mood is dark and cold like the weather outside. Your department has run out of everything – no more sandwiches, personal belonging bags or the good, fitted sheets for the beds. Administration is sending out emails thanking you for all your hard work, but also asking you to pick up some extra hours to fill in the staffing holes. It is easy to get resentful and cranky.
These are the days that we see holiday silliness in the emergency department that seems only to arrive in winter – 19 dialysis patients with clotted vascular access in 4 hours, patients with sore throats on a Buy 1 Get 30 Special, and so much epigastric pain (mine included) that it can only be the weeks after Thanksgiving.
And you will get those patients that no one wants to deal with but who take an extraordinary amount of time - the homeless men and women who come for what seems like complete BS. Maybe the EMS call will be for a 67 year-old homeless woman who fell and can’t (did not want to) get up or possibly a 46 year-old transient man who is having a flair up of their chronic thumb pain. I agree, this is not an emergency. This is a waste of an EMS rig. We are receiving a person who does not need emergency medical care services.
However, I want to take a moment to remind us all that while these people do not need emergency medical care, or possibly no medical care at all, they are people who still need care. These are often the forgotten, the hungry, the cold, the mentally ill, and the individuals that our society is failing. They are not getting the medical or mental health care that they need. They are most likely lacking the absolute basics – clean clothes, a place to shower, decent food, and a safe place to sleep.
**And I hear all of you who are saying that there are lots of people who choose this kind of life and just use and abuse the healthcare system. I agree. There are those people, lots of those people. But let’s just remember that they are still people.**
I had a patient like this yesterday. They needed nothing medically and were definitely taking up a bed that we needed for a sick patient. But as I tried to get them out of the ED, they told me about how much they just wanted a shower and some sleep. They told me how they had been eating out of the trash and scared to sleep because they never know who is around and what they might do.
This is not a person who needed any medical care, but they did need someone to care. We tried to help. We gave them clothes and food. We let them wash up. I led them to the waiting room to eat and rest while the ED continued to provide medical care to those who needed it.
I finished my shift and went home. And I was frustrated and sad. The emergency department should not have to be caring for the basic welfare of our patients. I truly feel that humans all have the right to clean food and safe housing.
And I can’t always make that happen. Shelters are often full. The department doesn’t have enough food to feed everyone a meal. Hospitals can’t be the fixer for all of these problems.
But for what it is worth, I know that I can always try to remember to care – to care enough to give each person the most dignified and respectful interaction that I can and to care enough to keep their humanity in mind even during the busiest time of year.
- Sarah @ New Thing Nurse
About the Author - Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL is an educator, speaker, blogger and owner of New Thing Nurse, a professional and academic coaching company for the nursing world. New Thing Nurse is organized to provide support and guidance to aspiring nurses, newly graduated nurses, and veteran RNs looking to make a change in their life.
Whether it’s a new school, new job or new idea,
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