Saturday, May 01, 2010

Test and Testy

I just got a new BlackBerry -- a Curve 8530 -- and I'm trying to see if I can blog right from the phone. So far, so good.

I went back to the hospital today. I wound up spending a lot of time with an extremely agitated patient who decided that I was one of the only trustworthy people in the building (probably because the minute I walked into the room, I said, "If you want me to leave, I will," which meant that for a while, at least, I was the only person the patient wanted to stay). A nurse made it into the patient's good graces too, but only after a shoving match involving lots of shouting and banging on the door while security guards, the social worker, other nurses and I milled around outside. I'd left the room to call a social-service organization, at the patient's request.

Meanwhile, one nurse scolded me for "enabling" the patient's behavior and not understanding hospital procedures regarding agitated patients, which in fact I understand very well. Apparently other nurses were talking about what I'd done wrong, which led to the nursing supervisor informing me that since I wasn't trained to handle this kind of patient, I shouldn't be in the room. I explained that in fact I'd done nothing wrong and that I felt safe with the patient (the nurse was clearly worried about liability).

Mind you, this was after two different nurses, earlier in the shift, had treated me as completely invisible. It was a really busy day, but I was still annoyed. I'll take invisibility over being chewed out by staff, though, especially for things I didn't do.

I wound up back in the room with the patient and the one acceptable nurse, who'd talked the patient down after the shoving match, had miraculously gotten the patient to follow instructions, and was now the patient's best friend, aside from me. The patient told me repeatedly, "You make me comfortable. You're perfect for this job. You have rainbows around you."

The nurse agreed I had rainbows around me. I told the nurse how wonderful she was. We both did everything we could to reassure the patient, who kept saying plaintively, "I'm not a bad person." When the patient and the nurse realized that I'd stayed ninety minutes past the end of my shift, they both insisted I go home.

On my way upstairs to sign out, I got another lecture from a security guard who thought I'd endangered myself needlessly. I didn't bother telling him that the patient became most agitated when I left the room, and that in fact I felt far more comfortable with the patient than the scolding nurses. I actually loved talking to the patient, who between bouts of fear and anger was funny, smart, and caring. And yes, this was an unstable person who theoretically could have gone off on me at any time. But I could have gotten my car totalled on the way to the hospital, too. We all could have been killed by a meteor crashing into the building. Every single one of us is surrounded by risk, all the time. I went with my gut feelng that the patient wouldn't hurt me, and my gut was right.

I know at least some of the lecturing came from concern for my well-being, but it's still frustrating to have so little credibility after over five years of volunteering. I felt like my presence was helping (the patient clearly thought it was), so I wish the medical staff hadn't seen me as part of the problem. Patients' responses to me are far more important -- and more uniformly positive -- but patients come and go. I have to deal with the staff every week, and it's harder to do my job well when they see me as a liability rather than an asset.

Ah well. For all the chaos and frustration, I still wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. It's deeply meaningful and satisfying work, even when it's difficult.


  1. susan, i think i mentioned that i found you by accident, randomly reading people's blogs. it's a thing i do.

    i like to read what people have to say, to look at their pictures. granted, there's a lot of drivel, but there are gems.

    like you.

    i have been on the business end of a hospital chaplain called to stay too late or past the end of her shift.

    my former pastor is an EMT; before i became a person of faith i had a very scary ambulance ride in which she worked over me and years later when our paths crossed again, i learned that what i felt while she worked on my in the truck was her prayers, which she is skilled at offering almost imperceptibly, while she does other things, like start IVs.

    people don't always see it, but the chaplains do a lot of the heavy lifting. sometimes it is only the work of the chaplain that makes the rest possible.

    so thank you for your work; thank you for your words.

    may every blessing rain down on you and yours.

  2. Thank you so much, Flask!

  3. Di (Australia)7:20 AM

    I've been nursing for thirty years, and I've just left the profession after years of fellow nurses'increasing complaints about me "not fitting in", "using too much initiative" and the like. Same as you, I can communicate well with disturbed and frightened people, and win their trust. It takes time, experience and the supression of ego. Seems there no room for using judgement any more, everything one does has to be "as per protocol", or the staff s**t themselves.
    Nursing has been reduced to performing tasks like robots, and the tasks are set in a hierarchy made of stone.


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