Thursday, October 23, 2014

Nursing Our Wounds

Short version
Thank you, nurses, for your tireless and too often thankless efforts.

Long version
It was strange watching the ebola situation unfold here in the U.S. last week. I was on a business trip, and as I flew to Texas and then to Ohio, I couldn't help but notice that my itinerary was coincidentally following the same path that I heard described on the news.

As troubling as it was to discover I was following the ebola virus, there was something far more troubling that I was hearing on the news.

It started with something that Thomas Frieden, the CDC chief, said in about the virus being transmitted to Nancy Pham, one of the nurses who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan.

"At some point there was a breach in protocol," Frieden said. "That breach in protocol resulted in this infection."

The problem that I have with that statement is that it seems to place the fault squarely on the shoulders of Nancy Pham (and subsequently Amber Vinson).

The statement didn’t seem to allow for the possibility that the hospital might have failed to adequately trained or equipped the nurses. The statement didn’t seem to allow for the possibility that the CDC’s protocols might have been inadequate.

Nope, the problem here was a breach in protocol.

Another troubling development was the video of the interaction between Nancy Pham and Dr. Gary Weinstein, her physician, as she was being prepared to be transported to Maryland for further treatment.

“There’s no crying,” Dr. Weinstein informs Nancy.

I’m a believer in the benefits of positive thinking. I’m aware of the beneficial effects of positive thinking on patients and their recovery. I get that.

He goes on to clarify, “Well happy tears are okay. “Otherwise no tears. No crying. It’s not allowed.”

Let me see if I get this straight. If I’m in Nancy’s position, crying is okay if it’s tears of joy, but there is no other circumstance that would permit crying?

How about I’m laying here in a hospital bed infected with a virus that has a 50% mortality rate, a virus that potentially leads to a horrific death, my employer has possibly failed to train and/or equip me to avoid infection, and the CDC chief is blaming my predicament on me? Would that situation permit crying?

Perhaps Dr. Weinstein was suffering from a momentary case of sub-optimal bedside manner. I’ll cut him some slack seeing as how the situation he was in was awkward at best.

But I will say this. Nurses are on the front line protecting you and me day after day. In addition to being undervalued as our health industry goes through round after round of cost cutting measures, we fail to even grant them the respect that they deserve. Since long before you or I were born, they have risked their lives treating patients with infectious diseases (e.g. meningitis). Now they risk exposure to ebola.

I know that I’m just one small voice and that I’m unlikely to be heard amongst the ‘noise’ on the Internet. But let me say thank you to the nurses of the world, especially those working in Emergency Departments who are consequently more likely to face these types of risks in their efforts to heal the afflicted. Their efforts not only aid the afflicted, they play a key role in helping the rest of us being infected by these same diseases.

You deserve far more respect than you typically receive.