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Burned Out Nurse, or the new Typhoid Mary?

July 30, 2012 10 comments

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.

It’s Been A Week

March 11, 2012 1 comment

English: U-Haul van being refueled on the Rout...

It’s odd, I figured this unemployment thing would be like a vacation.  Sit back, relax, catch up on things left unread, do some housework while slowly getting things for the imminent move together.  I figured I would not miss working, prepping for work or the actual time spent going to work.

Yeah.  Wrong on all counts.

Admittedly I’ve done a fair bit of relaxing.  There have been many days of sitting around in sweats like some somewhat thinner suburban version of Jabba the Hut, dropping whatever snacks were within reach into my maw, ordering minions to do things (at least in my head).  I’ve spent some quality time on Twitter, on some blogs, scoping out new places to ride when we move, but have done little of anything constructive.  The place looks pretty much exactly like it did the week I stopped working.  Packing?  Psshh.  Attacking the list of things I need to accomplish for the week?  Did (the easy) 50%.

Never thought I would say it, but the hardest thing is not going to work.  I see the #nocshift tag come up on Twitter for all those headed to slay the dragon of work and while I may be there in spirit, I’m really just an impostor now.  I wish them luck and go back to doing nothing of consequence.  But it’s the odd things that seem to mean the most to me.  Not buying food specifically for work.  Not staying up ’til all hours to readjust my internal clock to stay up for the next three nights.  Not having the in-person interaction with my friends as we strive towards a common goal.  It has made me slightly off-balance and I don’t like it.  Coming from a long line of Scandinavian hard working folk, the need to work is etched indelibly into my DNA.  Go too long without and I become insufferable to be around, pacing like a wild animal trapped in an enclosure but unable to do anything.

Worst though it has allowed my fear of not getting work even more real.  It has allowed that nagging voice, the one that I used to continually tell to “shut the fuck up!” a little more volume.  That little voice has been very, very talkative of late.  Doubt, the killer of initiative, has been working overtime.

All this after only a week.  I’m going to be a psychic wreck by the time I get to Arizona.  And I will have probably driven my wife insane.

At least though, things are slowly coming together.  It appears we have a place to call home lined up.  There seems to be some jobs in the area that I could pursue.  I just have to realize that things will take some time.  This isn’t going to happen overnight, no matter how hard I want it to.  The last time I was unemployed was so painful, more for factors beyond not having a job/income, that issues I thought I had dealt with long ago are bleeding into the current discussion which makes this more stressful.  I have to remember that this is not like last time.  I have experience.  I have money coming in.  I’m not running from death, disappointment and despair.  Instead I’m running to something new, exciting and different.  And you’e all along for the ride!

The Strong Suffer

March 4, 2012 3 comments

English: A right MCA artery stroke.

~this was originally written the week before my last day

We are in the midst of the transition that prompted me to volunteer to quit my job and it sucks. Each day makes me realize what a good decision I made, but makes me worried for those left behind.

One of the biggest issues is that we’re combining two different units, one a typical med-surg/renal unit, the other a progressive care unit. Two very different staffs with different skill sets. The tele nurses are all ACLS and stroke certified, the others not. The tele unit started and built an observation unit and got used to and accepted the turn and burn mentality where you admit and discharge like there’s no tomorrow. The folks coming in rarely admitted in the levels we did and came from a more laid-back mentality.  SO yes, it’s a huge transition, especially for the new folks on our staff, huge changes in both practice and mentality. Add to that increased patient ratios and people are already starting to question the status quo.

The worst though is for the nurses perceived as “strong”. You know the ones that can take anything you throw at them, rarely bitch and just take their lumps, the ones with the advanced skills. They get the more difficult patients, the sicker patients, and more of them.

The other night was a perfect example of that for me. I started with 4, a decent mix of patients. (yes, I know, our ratios are low compared to some, but we have minimal support staff, it’s all about perspective too). Charge nurse comes to me with a proposition: drop one of my patients to take stroke admit. She figured it was easier for me to do this instead of giving the only other stroke nurse a 5th when she had never taken 5 patients before. This is a full on stroke, large MCA nastiness and there are a lot of things to do since we’re in the acute window. What choice do I have? I’m not gong to be a dick and say “no, let ‘em suffer” am I? Not really. So I admit the stroke and considering now the CT looks, I lucked out. Then she comes back asking me to take a chest pain admit since the only other nurse just “can’t”. Whatever. They ask because they know I will only say no if I truly can’t. They ask because “you’re strong and can handle it, the others can’t.”

The last night I worked it happened again, I get the admit while the others don’t because “they haven’t done it.” And it’s not like I don’t want to work, I take my lumps but I believe it should be fair, at leadst to an extent. Give an equitable load, don’t dump on the strong nurses because you can. What comes out of that? Burnout. Demotivation. Animosity.

A good friend of mine who is staying mentioned all of this to me the week before we changed over.  He’s a guy who never complains, I mean NEVER.  And he was upset, worried and generally disaffected.  Did I mention he is a guy who always has a smile on his face, even when glove deep in poop?  To see him so upset truly shows me the folly of the madness being inflicted on us.  Here’s a nurse who smiles through everything, who gets every single LOL to love him, who’s clinical skills have grown immensely since hire to be a very competent, caring and effective nurse who will be put through the wringer because he’s “strong” and they run the risk of losing such an employee. But in the end “they” don’t care, it all comes down to money.

That is why I feel bad for my former colleagues.  It’s going to get worse before it gets any better, if it ever does.  The unit we spent years building was destroyed in one fell swoop and is reverting back to a mire of poor management, burned out nurses, massive regular turnover of nurse, disaffected staff and a manager who is crushed by those farther up the food chain.  Sadly it all lands on the patients and while there will be nurses who strive to keep the level of care the same, you can only fight the tide for so long.  Hopefully the worst of my prognostications doesn’t cone true.  One can only hope.

~disclaimer: I know there are places with far worse ratios and worse conditions, we’ve been incredibly lucky for a long time.  Leave it at that.

Coincidence? I Don’t Believe in Coincidences

October 20, 2011 2 comments
Gold service star

Image via Wikipedia

 

In a hypothetical hospital many years ago there was an ED. Small, cramped, poorly laid out, understaffed and trying valiantly to provide “Gold Star Service” to everyone that graced their doors. For years this little ED-that-could worked their hearts out and while maybe not providing “Gold Star Service” to them all, they did the best they could and the sick and dying were taken care of.

 

Now for those years the poor manager of the this little slice of Hell cried out in need for many things. More staff. More equipment (stuff that worked). A remodel to improve flow and room for treating sick folks. And while other floors got staffed and remodeled, the poor little ED sat alone in it’s squalor.

When the surveyors of the Joint (smoking) Commission arrived the higher-ups would pull other staff from across Mammoth Health Care Inc. tm to ensure the illusion of competence was complete. Then, as soon as the surveyors left, things went back to normal.

This isn’t to say the care was poor. They did well in a poor situation catching many dire diagnoses and saving many lives. Yeah, not everyone got “Gold Star Service” but the vast majority made it out alive and whole again – sometimes after a stay, but saved nonetheless.

Then one day the Master, CEO of Mammoth Health comes to visit dragging behind him architects, facilities engineers, nursing vice-presidents and the entire entourage that befits one of his rank and stature. Plans are shown that would vastly improve the poor little ED-that-could. A remodel, more equipment and more staffing. Mouths gaped, had all the prayers been answered? Yes, their time had come finally.

Smarter minds thought though, “Why after all this time choose now?”. Those minds began looking and trying to figure out why now. Thanks to scuttlebutt it became apparent: one of the Master’s family/entourage had been to the little ED-that-could and had not gotten the full “Gold Star Service”. All of a sudden, it made perfect sense. They could see it so clearly now.

Coincidence? Like I said, I don’t believe in them.

More readings… Very Influential People

Whatever, Just Put Them on the Monitor

October 18, 2011 Leave a comment

 

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?

October 16, 2011 4 comments

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…

What’s Wrong with Health Care?

September 25, 2011 8 comments
A Burger King hamburger sesame seed bun, as se...

Image via Wikipedia

Customer service.

We’ve turned taking care of the sick and injured into fucking Burger King. Everyone wants it “their” way. Sorry folks, life isn’t like that especially in my house. When we turn patients into consumers, they begin to expect to treated like customers and hence have no skin in the game. This leads to unrealistic expectations and our administrative “leaders” play up that we are in the business of providing customer service instead of healing. That then becomes our problems on the floors and our “customers” think that “their” way is the only way.

Yes, I will be disturbing you at midnight to check your vitals and then doing it again at 4am.

Yes, you will have blood drawn, probably several times through the day and night.

No, you can’t have your hydrmorphodemerolepam every hour, even if that’s how you take it at home – which is probably what got you here in the first place.

No, burger and fries are not part of your heart healthy diet to help treat your congestive heart failure.

Yes, lasix makes you pee. And, yes, I will be giving you a dose tonight, as the doctor ordered, every 8 hours so that you can breath and not have a hugely swollen scrotum.

Yes, it would be nice for your family to come in to learn wound care techniques so they can care for you at home.

No, not all of them can stay the night with you in a double room.

No, you can’t go out to smoke, even just for a minute. And I’m definitely not giving you an oxygen tank and wheelchair to do it.

Yes, you are more than welcome to leave AMA because we’re all racist assholes who won’t give you IV narcotics every hour, please just sign this form.

No, you don’t get a cab voucher, discharge prescriptions or fresh clothes if you do leave AMA. Sorry.

Yes, Dr. First-Year Intern, they just left AMA after threatening the entire staff, but you might catch them by the ED if you hurry. I’d bring Security with you though.

I will be polite and respectful, but I will not fawn over ingrates, feed into those with unreasonable expectations or take the crap from the dis-respectful. I refuse to be turned into a cashier clerk at the local fast food joint or a Pez dispenser of Oxycontin. There is difference between customer service and letting the public run wild in our house.

It’s time to take it back.

To set expectations.

To educate our patients.

To let the world know that we are not there to be exploited, abused and disrespected.

It’s a long journey, but it starts with a single step, for nurses and other health-care providers to stand up and say, “NO MORE!” and start to expect our patients to be active and involved, to care about their health, to put some skin in the game and start behaving like responsible adults.

But that will never happen. Sad.

Alphabet Soup and Leadership

September 25, 2011 2 comments

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.

Meetings: Not a Prioirty

August 23, 2011 3 comments

To: Unit Manager

From: Wanderer, overworked charge nurse

Subject: Monday’s Meeting

I guess one of the included functions in the Managerion™ 2000 automated management toolset randomly creates meetings and requires our attendance.  This would explain relative randomness and recurring frequency of such meetings and their lack of cogent concept or agenda.  Having meetings just to have meetings about meetings is pointless and a waste of all of our time.

In the last 4 meetings we have decided absolutely nothing, but keep referring to later meetings to “work out the details”.  Would it be so hard to make a decision?  Yes, you have multiple units that these decisions will affect, but sometimes you need to throw caution to the wind and make a decision – call it an executive mandate.  There is something to that y’know?

This said, I won’t be coming to any more meetings.  I’m not going to spend an hour each way commuting in to work for a meeting that lasts 45-60minutes and decides nothing.  It is not as easy as some might think.  Whether I drive or not it is at least 45 minutes in rush hour traffic and if I use transit it is even longer.  Now if we were going to decide something or the  meeting was going to last 2 hours, things might be different.  Also if I didn’t have to come back to work the night shift at 1900 it might be different as well.  But the last 4 meetings have done nothing of the sort.

I realize that it is part of your annual review to see how many meetings you presided over, ran or otherwise were engaged in, and I know management is in agreement that meeting indices are not quite what they should be for this fiscal quarter, but please, enough already.

So unless the next meeting will actually accomplish something, or is held in a local pub during happy hour, I won’t even be phoning it in.  I am a nurse, I take care of patients.  I am not a paper-pusher, drone, meeting junkie or have any aspirations to management  so just let me do what I’m good at – no more meetings.

Thanks!

Wanderer, overworked charge nurse

Night Shift Blues

July 10, 2011 5 comments

The worst shift I ever worked was a 3-7:30 shift loading freight onto planes in Portland. Wet, windy, cold on the damp days, hot and windy when it was warm, and I had to walk uphill both ways to work. But at least there was time to deal with normal life that working night shift doesn’t give me.

My manager remarked to me that night-shifters tend to, “have a bit of chip on our shoulders, almost like the world owes you something.” Damn right I do. I’m up when most sane and rational people are asleep. I sleep when the rest of the world is doing there thing. If someone is loud, obnoxious when day shift sleeps, they can call the cops. Me? I’m outta luck.

So yes, I have a chip about it. The world wants 24-7 care, a 24-7 society, but does little to accommodate it. One of these needs has to give. Soon.

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