Burned Out Nurse, or the new Typhoid Mary?

According to a recent survey, burned out nurses are more likely to spread infections. Here’s all the gory details: Burned-out Nurses linked to more infections in patients.

Having been a burned out nurse, I can see where this might happen. You’re tired, you’re pushed daily to give care to sicker and sicker patients and there’s more of them. Those of us who have tread that road know that it is not an intentional thing. These are small mistakes made through inattention, missed attention, attention focused on too many other things, complications of being pulled 7 ways at once that being a bedside nurse in inherent to.

But according to many comments left on the article, nurses are lazy and sit around all the time, it is all a conspiracy by the Man to keep the proletariat down, that being abused is part of the job, that we should just get over it and do our job correctly or get out of the profession. Very few voices of reason rang out, but this is the Internet and trolls abound. No one really gets it.

There is little to discuss why burnout happens or what our employers can do to help with burn out except for a short superficial look at staffing ratios. Unfortunately, staffing ratios are not a panacea, they are a means to an end, but unless coupled to acuity it is meaningless. Too often the cause is that there is too fluid of a patient population with huge swings in census, that hospital profits and administrator salaries are put ahead of nursing staffing, that reimbursement for many stays is a joke and that our patients are sicker than before.

There is hope though as the article mentions that when burnout symptoms ease, rates of infection go down. This highlights the obvious: happy nurses are nurses who can deliver the best care. Simple really. Too bad the things that would make many happy are the things that hospitals themselves would never realize. Instead they will continue to bury nurses under a blizzard of pointless paperwork, poor staffing, sicker patients, poorer compensation and even poorer support from those above in the hierarchy. We need though to learn as nurses how to keep us from transforming into Typhoid Mary even though we might be burned out and understanding of what can happen is the first step.

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Every Now and Then, You Win

“Hey Wanderer, there’s a guy in 32 that wants to talk to you.”

Great, I think to myself. It’s a complaint, or a problem, or something unpleasant. Prejudicial? Probably, but the way things have been lately it’s the reality. Head up, smile plastered on I head over to 32.

As I walk in I see a familiar face. He had been with us for about 2 weeks, dealing with the effects of alcoholic cardiomyopathy and most of us only gave him even odds to stay sober and in good shape. I had spent a lot of time educating, reinforcing and generally trying to help him beat the odds so it was good to see him because he looked like it all had worked.

“Hey,” he said, ” I’ve been sober now for 73 days thanks to you guys.”

We talked for awhile as he related everything that had gone on since discharge and how he had really turned his life around. It was nice to hear for a change.

The Tale of the Good Samaritan

A drunk man in the streets of Pichilemu.

“He’s a 55 year old male found down by a bystander and brought in by EMS. He’s being admitted to you for altered mental status, ETOH withdrawal, hyponatremia and chest pain. Any questions?”

It’s a common story. Passerby sees guy slumped over on the sidewalk, sleeping soundly In a drunken stupor and calls EMS. EMS comes and determines the guy is drunk as a skunk but “altered” so per protocol they bring him to the local ED. A workup by Dr. Caresalot show the altered electrolytes and altered mental status of a chronic drunk, but instead of giving him a banana bag and letting him sleep off the drunk, they admit him.

On admit labs his alcohol level is 456 mg/dl or .456 on a breathalyzer, over 5 times the legal limit. A level this high shows dedication and a long history of this kind of abuse, which means he is more susceptible to withdrawal symptoms at a higher threshold than normal. Guys like this start to have withdrawal symptoms when they hit the 150 mg/dl level, so the shakes, the autonomic symptoms, the hallucinations and agitation are starting when he hits the floor.

Ativan is given in copious amounts over the next couple of hours to control the symptoms. Then while on the toilet he has a withdrawal seizure and bradys down earning a trip to the ICU for more intensive Ativan therapy. He can’t protect his airway and aspirates while on the vent and develops pneumonia. A delirium develops during his stay in the ICU and when stable enough for the floor he needs a sitter to deal with his agitation while the delirium clears.

Every chance he is asked about quitting alcohol he states adamantly “I’m never going to stop drinking.”. So he stays with us for two weeks, detoxing him, curing his pneumonia, clearing the delirium, repleting magnesium, getting him fed, all of the healing that being in the hospital provides. So after the two weeks, with help from social services he is discharged to housing, clean and sober, ready for a new life. He then walks into the convince store around the corner from the hospital and walks out with an 18 pack under his arm to start over. And the cycle continues over and over again.

I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve done this. More times than not, a good Samaritan calls it in. Instead of minding their own business, they take it upon themselves to “help” with no understanding of the events they place in motion. Instead of leaving the drunk sleep off the drunk, they call 911 to get help. EMS is obliged then to treat and transport starting the whole series over again. I’m not against helping, I just wish people would think before they acted and our ED docs would not admit everyone who shows up on the doorstep.

 

Whatever, Just Put Them on the Monitor

 

I wonder why new residents love to torment tele nurses?

 

Are we that easy of a target?

Or is it that they’re too intimidated by our drive? (True story, it was relayed to my manager that many of the 1st years were afraid of one particular charge nurse, mostly due to her breadth and depth of knowledge, but also that she was doing cardiac nursing before they were conceived.)

Whatever it is,they seem to think that the only true indication for telemetry monitoring is having a heart. Yes, true. But really does every single patient you admit truly need it?

I’ve heard some truly egregious statements with regard to this. One example is the 20-something year old with pneumonia who was tachycardic. Not SVT, not atrial tach or WPW, just straight up sinus tach with a rate in the 110’s. Gee, you think maybe that they were, A.) dry or B.) febrile? Or maybe a combination of both. A couple of days later, one of the attendings realized this and took off the tele, but the poor patient got charged the higher rate for the 3 days they were monitored when they really didn’t need to be.

Or the time there was a stroke patient on our neuro floor, probably the best place in the hospital for them, remote monitored on tele as well. “But the heartbeat was irregular.” complained the nurse to the doctor, “Shouldn’t they be on the tele floor?” Of course the young impressionable intern agreed, forgetting the patient suffered from chronic atrial fib…and had a pacemaker. The patient had been on all their normal home meds until admit and heart rate was well controlled, blood pressure was acceptable and all they were dealing with was the stroke sequelea. But out of the nice private room on neuro into a shared room on tele. Family was pissed. That was a fun one trying to smooth over.

Of course there is always the bleeders, usually GI in origin that HAVE to be on tele. I’m not talking the folks having gushing blood from mouth or rectum, but the LOL admitted with tarry stools and a slightly low H&H, or the post-surgical bleeder. The relatively stable ones. And on multiple times I hear the same refrain: we want them on tele so you can see if something happens. OK, maybe you forgot basic A&P, but really by the time we see something on the monitor, the damage has been done and they’re slip-sliding back to the ICU. Like the one last month who the nurse was helping get up to use the commode who syncopeed out and shit black stool all over the bed (luckily missing her)…guess what? Nothing on the monitor, beautiful sinus rhythm with nary a bump in rate from before. Off to the Unit they went.

It seems like everyone gets tele ordered. We’ve had a couple of new hires lately, all experienced nurses, one asked me, “So, patients get taken off tele and moved to med-surg, right?” I tried not to laugh too hard. “Nope, they stay here until they leave…”. It becomes a rote thing, just a part of the routine, not actually deciding if it benefits the patient.

On the other side are the times when you go, “What, they’re not on tele? Are you kidding me?”. Unfortunately due to the over-reliance on tele, I can’t remember a recent example of this! But it’s what comes with the territory. We take the ones that need to be on tele and theses that really don’t all the same. Because I really want the DNR comfort care patient on tele, (true story). I just wish I knew why.

What Protocol?

5am. My patient on a Lasix drip has a potassium of 3.0 from the labs I drew an hour before. Shit, what to do?

Wake the doc up and get my ass chewed?

Or…

Consult the protocol and start giving potassium replacement per protocol?

For the sake of my bony ass, the second option really seems the best, but, alas there is no protocol ordered, nothing in the regs saying I can implement it on my own, I am stuck calling the doc to get an order for potassium replacement. It went better than expected thankfully.

But I never should have been in the position if the docs had been anticipating that this might be an issue and planned accordingly. I mean, let’s thing this through…CHF patient, being aggressively diuresed with a Lasix drip running at 20mg/hour with a pretty awesome urine output, odds are pretty good that all of that peeing is going to impact the level of potassium… So to stave off the inevitable call, when there is a protocol on the books, wouldn’t it be a smart idea to write, “Potassium replacement per protocol.”. Unfortunately though, it appears that our residents missed that day in class. So they get the call.

While I rarely agree with the dog/tractor/child-posting Asberger-esque Happy Hospitalist, in his post about Call Parameters…blah, blah, blah he lays out a plethora of standing orders that would basically end calls to him. Call it extreme protocoling. But it has the under-pinnings of a decent idea. Give the nurses the tools they need so they can treat the patient instead of spending time on getting orders. There are issues with that though.

First, there is the issue of control. Some physicians tend to be a little on the control-freakish side, liking to micromanage care, which I get. Letting protocols run free deprives them of the minute control some need. I turn to say that it frees them to be more efficient with their time and reduces the amount of time spent on hold waiting to talk to the nurse who paged them. Win-win, right?

Which brings up the second issue: lack of nurse follow-thru. This can be an issue if you have lazy nurses. Lack of this follow-thru is what dooms it on my floor. Many of our nurses don’t even draw off scheduled labs, like cardiac enzymes q6, when the patient has a central line. How are these nurses gong to have the follow-thru to manage an electrolyte replacement protocol? They’re not. Probably what would happen is the patient would get the first dose and redraw, but odds are good that anything further won’t happen. I know this as I’ve seen it happen, so it’s not pure cynicism on my part to doubt it would be done right. There are some nurses that are very cognizant and would do well with such a protocol, but they are way out-numbered by those that aren’t. So we end up with the myriad and endless game of phone tag.

There are places where this works, critical care comes to mind, but it could work on the floor. All that is needed is staff buy-in, but in my milieu, that’s dreaming. So, I’ll just be calling the docs and making all of our lives inconvenient. There’s a protocol for that too…

Alphabet Soup and Leadership

Alphabet soup. Y’know, all the wonderful letters after ones name that proves to anyone who can read that you’ve persevered though multiple rounds of education that are supposed to make you a better nurse. Does all that make you a leader though? Mother Jones asks a similar question in Are you smarter than a nursing leader?.

I’m with her. I’m not sold on the idea that more advanced education makes one a better nurse or leader. Sure you may have more classroom time learning all of the concepts and theories, but from what I’ve learned in life (not just nursing), theories and concepts tend to go out the window when the shit hits the fan. There is a developing caste structure in nursing based on degrees, that somehow nurses with “better” degrees are better nurses. BSN vs. ADN, MSN vs. BSN, where does it end? In all reality, one doesn’t need a MSN to be a bedside nurse and all this caste structure does is to further reinforce the idea of otherness and exploit the differences between nurses, rather than the commonalities and allow institutions to let education trump experience.

Advanced education has it’s place and in all likelihood I’ll be headed back to the classroom soon, but not because of a need to prove myself, but to improve my ability to move behind the bedside. But an advanced degree does not make one a leader. Sure you learn all the wonderful catch phrases, managerial double-speak and organizational ideals, but when it comes to it, leadership is inborn talent. Some have it, others don’t and no amount of education will fix that.

A Pacer Puzzler

Sometimes we see things on the monitor that while they look like things aren’t working correctly they actually are doing what they should.  Case in point from awhile ago.

The tech calls me and says, “Your patient in 75, they keep alarming for missing beats and pacer not pacing.  You going to call the doc?” as he hands me the following strips:

#1#2

I looked down, double checked and said, “Nope.  It’s working perfectly.”

In both strips you can see spots where it appears that the pacemaker is failing to pace, after 1st and 7th QRS complexes in strip #1 and after the 4th QRS in strip #2.  In each case you have a spike then a p-wave and nothing until a odd appearing PVC-like beat.  The tech pointed these out and I further reiterated that, “Yes, it’s working just fine.

But I had a cheat, I had read the interrogation report from when the patient had been admitted and knew what mode the device was set for, the tech hadn’t.  This is a pretty good example of a mode known as MVP, or managed ventricular pacing.  Basically this is a mode designed to reduce ventricular dysynchrony by allowing the heart’s natural conduction system to function while providing back-up in case of failure.  Excessive right ventricular pacing has been shown in studies to lead to congestive heart failure, increased incidence of atrial fibrillation, increased left atrial diameter and changes to hemodynamics and ventricular remodeling all of which can have detrimental effect on the patient and their quality of life.

In MVP pacing the pacemaker operates in AAI/R mode, as shown in both strips, with a set duration of time to allow for a ventricular beat.  If no beat arrives in the programmed time span the device will initiate a ventricular beat then return to the AAI/R.  If a beats are frequently dropped, usually 2 out of 4 complexes, the device shifts to DDD/R mode.  It will continue this way for a minute then attempt to return to AAI/R to detect AV conduction.  If beats are still dropped it will remain in DDD/R mode for increasing amounts of time, periodically checking for the return of AV conduction, at which point it will switch back to AAI/R mode.

Let’s break each strip down.

Strip #1:  starts with normal AV conduction in AAI/R mode and almost immediately, a beat is dropped and the device iniates the rescue beat.  It continues for 5 more QRS complexes until there is another dropped beat.  There is normal AV conduction for one more QRS then another dropped beat after which the device switches to DDD/R mode (it was too long to scan).

Strip #2: a little simpler.  4 normal QRS complexes then a dropped beat followed by a PVC, then another dropped beat.  Here you can see the device then switch into DDD/R mode due to dropping 2 out of 4 beats.

So, yes, the pacer was working exactly as it was supposed to.  I explained this to the tech and went on my merry way.  The next time he sees this he’ll stop to ask if they are set to MVP from now on.  Good learning moments come when you least expect them!

Sources:

Sweeney, M., Ellenbogen, K., Casavant, D., Betzold, R., Sheldon, T., Tang, F., & … Lingle, J. (2005). Multicenter, prospective, randomized safety and efficacy study of a new atrial-based managed ventricular pacing mode (MVP) in dual chamber ICDs. Journal of Cardiovascular Electrophysiology, 16(8), 811-817. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

 Gillis, A., Purerfellner, H., Israel, C., Sunthorn, H., Kacet, S., Anelli-Monti, M., & … Boriani, G. (2006). Reducing unnecessary right ventricular pacing with the managed ventricular pacing mode in patients with sinus node disease and AV block. Pacing & Clinical Electrophysiology, 29(7), 697-705. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.