Under My Skin

It’s not often that I get riled up by things patients do thanks to a dedicated sense of Zen and a well-developed ability to shrug things off. So it’s a big deal to me when I let someone get to me.

Someone did the other night. I know rationally it’s not a big thing, in fact it happens fairly regularly. But deep in my psyche it stung and I’ve been perservating over it since. I got fired by a patient.

It’s happened before, it will happen again is what I keep telling myself, but it nevertheless unnerved me. Why? The reason? It was because I’m a man. Or as I crassly put it on Twitter, “I got fired because I have a penis.” It’s one of those things us men in nursing come up against and we have learned to take it in stride. There are ingrained social and societal mores, stereotypes and prejudices that cannot be erased in the first five minutes of you meeting me, the male nurse.

Rationally I get it. Emotionally/psychologically I don’t.

If you’re a 80-something year old lady, having a male nurse is probably a bit out of your comfort zone and no matter how professional the nurse is, it still isn’t comfortable. But I don’t understand totally. If you’re that age, odds are good, like 100%, that your Ob/Gyn was a man. You let them view and examine your holiest-of-holies, but when it comes to the nurse, the one who ensures you get the right medications, that the treatments we are doing is actually working,  it’s just too weird. I’m not asking to examine your bits, in fact I want nothing to do with them.  I even offered that if you were uncomfortable I could have our aide help you with your bathroom needs. Clueless I’m not. I can tell when things are not quite right and take preventative action, so I thought I had it covered.

Yeah, I was a little surprised when a family member came out to the nurses station and spoke to a co-worker about it. Not to mention I was sitting right there. My name was on the patient’s board and I was the only guy sitting there. They didn’t talk to me because they were ashamed, but here’s the thing: I wouldn’t have been so upset if they had asked me about it. In fact in I would have offered to swap assignments on the spot, no muss, no fuss, no dirt off my shoulder.

We swapped out assignments and solved the problem

Here’s the thing too, they commented to the nurse who replaced me that it wasn’t my ability, but merely my gender as the reason to swap.  I’ll take that.  More though, I was angry.  I was angry because it wasn’t my skills, my attitude or inter-personal skills, it was that I was a man.  It’s accepted because of this, but what if it had been because I was black, or gay, or Muslim?  I’m not truly making comparisons and saying I’m being oppressed, I’m trying to make a point.  Prejudice is still prejudice.

I will agree that there are some places men shouldn’t be nurses.  Hell, I’m guilty about it since I had a little bit of problem with my wife having a guy nurse in OB, but I never would have asked to change (and in that case only because he was incompetent.)

I had thought at this point in time the acceptance of men in nursing this was a non-issue.

I was wrong.

As I said above, it’s happened before and will happen again. But it still doesn’t make it right.


Addendum:  I’ve let this post simmer for awhile and while I’m not as pissed as I was, it still irks me.  But I tell myself, “get over it.”  And it works.  Most of the time.


  1. I work in the NICU and we only have about 7 males out of a total of 152 nurses. I wish we had more males in nursing because I feel they are more direct in their concerns of the unit and what is pertinent to our needs. Since I’ve been there, we’ve only had one issue where a male nurse was fired because he was a male and that was because the parents of the patient were Muslim and the baby was female… so their traditions and customs said that a male could not care for their daughter.


  2. I am somewhat ashamed that my first reaction was “I’ll put the number of times you’ve been made to feel bad because you’re male on one side of the scale, and the number of times I’ve been made to feel bad because I’m female on the other side of the scale, and let’s see which way it dips.”

    While I am not 80, I am in my late 50s and I would be very uncomfortable having a male nurse help me with intimate ADL. I wouldn’t fire him though. I would tell him how I felt and ask for his patience with me. On the other hand, when I was retaining urine after surgery I was momentarily uncomfortable when a male came in to cath me, but I was more than grateful and relieved as the liters flowed out. But when I was an outpatient in onco radiology a couple of months later and had to have creams applied to the burns on my chest, I chose to wait longer on the hard chairs in the clinic so it would be the female nurse, and not the male who shmeared my upper body.

    I suppose what I’m saying is that yes – the world is changing, but some of us fogies are still around. I apologize on our behalf for being insensitive, and I thank you for your tact and diplomacy.


  3. I have to admit, I felt a teeny bit the same as Knot Tellin’s first paragraph describes. However, I have been the nurse that the patient’s family came to explaining they didn’t want my male coworkers to care for their loved one because of gender. While I understood the anxiety and enormous stress the family was experiencing in the hospital, the request is chilling in it’s implication when the patient is a child. I hated explaining the request to my male colleagues who I knew to be competent professionals.

    Awhile ago, someone asked me what I thought of MIRSIS. I thought he meant MRSA, so I asked if he had been diagnosed with it. He explained, “No, Murses, male nurses. What do you think about them?” I said, “I love them.”


  4. I remembered this entry after my visit to the ER last night. It was the first time I had a male nurse and always thought I would be uncomfortable being cared for by one. He ended up being the best nurse I have ever met and am extremely grateful I had him instead of his two female coworkers (that did absolutely nothing the entire time I was there).


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