Nurses: ‘Extraordinary’ Caregivers, ‘Worst’ Patients

exner-familyBy Katie Exner, MSN

There’s a saying that nurses make the worst patients. Now I understand why, and it makes me even prouder of my fellow nurses and the work we do every day.

I’m an advanced practice nurse who has worked in Rush for the past three years. I also recently gave birth to my twin sons at Rush.

I was admitted to the hospital in November for gestational hypertension (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure). I was at such risk for pre-eclampsia — a kind of hypertension disorder that’s a leading cause of maternal and infant death — that my doctors determined I needed to deliver a few days after I was admitted. I was 35 weeks pregnant at the time.

My boys are my first kids, and my husband and I encountered a lot of difficulty having children, so it was a tough road. Everything about my birthing experience was very far from how I had hoped or imagined it would be.

Immediately after being born, my eldest son, Colin, had to be taken emergently to Rush’s neonatal intensive care unit to be treated for neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (a breathing disorder that occurs in babies whose lungs haven’t fully developed). He couldn’t even cry when he was born. I heard one squeak, and that was it before they whisked him away. It was the toughest experience of my life.

My younger son, Aiden, followed soon after. He also had respiratory distress syndrome, and I only saw him briefly in the operating room before he, too, was taken to the NICU.

I had to wait to meet Colin and see Aiden again until three hours after their birth, when a nurse rolled me on a gurney to the NICU “on the way” to Rush’s Mother Baby Unit. It was the longest three hours of my life.

I’m sure you can appreciate how difficult my experience, or that of any mother in my position, must have been to be recovering from just having undergone surgery, to be without your newborns immediately after their birth, and to need to go back and forth from Mother Baby Unit to the NICU in order to see them.

Colin was in the NICU for two weeks and Aiden was there for three. Both boys needed a machine to help them breathe until their lungs were more developed. They also needed to learn how to effectively eat and gain weight until they could be discharged home. It took Aiden a week longer. I was in the hospital myself for almost two weeks.

‘I’m a nurse. I can do it myself.’

During that time, despite everything, I would try to take care of myself so that I wouldn’t have to bother the nurses. I didn’t want to hit the call light. We nurses feel bad asking another nurse to do anything for us, because we think, “I’m a nurse. I can do it myself.”

We also tend to minimize things. For example, when I had a couple of high blood pressure readings, I said, “don’t chart (record) that. Let’s do it again in five minutes.”

This type of behavior is the reason why nurses have a reputation as being bad patients. It also reflects the type of people that typically are drawn to nursing. You have to have some self-reliance, and you have to be able to improvise and make things work in a difficult situation.

Yet for all the self-reliance and mental and emotional toughness I’ve developed in my eight years as a trauma and emergency department nurse, and while the care I received from my physicians was excellent, I do not think I could have made it without the extraordinary help of the nurses. They made the hardest experience of my life easier and more bearable. They also were able to appreciate that as a nurse, it was very difficult for me to be a patient.

These nurses eased my fears before my surgery, held my hand during my epidural and helped me to breastfeed my sons. One took such care of me my first night after delivery that I actually was able to get some rest and feel as if I had nothing to worry about, despite being exhausted, worried, distraught at only having been able to spend a few minutes with my sons on their first night, and in pain.

My lowest point was the next day, my first day after surgery, when I was exhausted and filled with postpartum hormones. I had a meltdown in the NICU while a lactation consultant was talking to me. A nurse who was tending to Colin at the same time talked me through it. Later that night, I had another breakdown in the Mother Baby Unit, and another nurse talked some sense into me and made me feel better.

Repeatedly, the nurses also made me laugh. A couple of them were hilarious, and I have found humor goes a long way during difficult situations. In addition to their professional care, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

These women are superior nurses and make me proud to be a nurse practitioner at Rush. The few examples I’ve described here were just a few of the amazing care I received from them. They exemplify the quality of care on which Rush prides itself.

I think there still are some misconceptions about nursing. People still don’t understand how much schooling and how much knowledge you have to have. Most of us are very selfless: Our main goal is to help people, and we work very hard. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting sometimes, especially when we don’t get credit for what we do or are appreciated for it.

Let me be clear: Receiving recognition is not why we became nurses. It’s just nice to feel that what you are doing is making a difference, and when people don’t recognize the value of your work, sometimes you just don’t.

As National Nurses Week approaches, my wish is that people truly understand the role nurses have in their care. And remember to always be nice to your nurse.

Katie Exner, MSN, is a board-certified acute care nurse practitioner in Rush’s emergency department.

2 thoughts on “Nurses: ‘Extraordinary’ Caregivers, ‘Worst’ Patients

  1. Beautiful letter Katie.. Your an extraordinary person . I’ve know you since you were born. God bless you ,Shane and babies. , I love you

  2. Katie, your article brought back memories when I delivered my twin boys at 33 weeks;as I had toxemia, 25 years ago. After the delivery I almost had organ failure and miraculously, pulled through. During recuperation, there was no room at the maternity ward and the unit I where was placed in, the nurses & staff were so helpful, compassionate & encouraging. I was fortunate to have Rush’s lactation consultant call my house, once the first twin was discharged.She encouraged me to start pumping again & add it to the formula. It’s a story I continue sharing with my WIC clients, who didn’t have a chance to offer their colostrom too.God is good…all the time, God is good!

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