It's a real shame that the general public have no real clue what nurses do. They often think that nurses are the enemy and that we ask them to do things that make their lives miserable just because we enjoy making them suffer.
I recently had a patient's family member tell me that her mother needed to have a surgical procedure and was asked to refrain from eating or drinking anything after midnight prior to the day of the procedure, (also known as being NPO). She told me that her mother was very upset that we would "put her through all the starving, thirst and inconvenience for no reason at all."
As a old surgical nurse I felt it my duty to explain to her that it wasn't that we enjoyed inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on patients on a regular basis, just for the sheer fun of it. Instead, patients are instructed to be NPO because they can aspirate on the operating room table. I have personally witnessed this on more than one occasion and it's not a pretty sight. It's a very serious thing, and it's the reason we are so strict about it.
The woman listened to my explanation thoroughly and asked very pertinent questions about NPO status. At the end of our discussion she thanked me for explaining the reasons why her mother should remain NPO before a surgical procedure. She also told me that no one had ever explained this before.
Then it occurred to me that so often nurses forget what it's like to be a non-medical person, trying to muddle through the confusing medical terminology and instructions. We need to remember that just because we understand medical terminology doesn't mean our patients do. Our patients need us to be their interpreters, to explain things and teach them what they need to know. For them, we are the bridge between total confusion and non-compliance and clarity and compliance.
A nurses' number one priority is to be our patient's advocate, and part of this responsibility means teaching patients. Take the time to explain their procedures to them. Translate what their physician has said to them into a language that they can understand and relate to. Doctors are notorious for having no bedside manner; they leave this up to the nurses. So we need to step up to the plate and be the middleman between patients and their physicians.
We see patients at their worst and most vunerable. They are often scared, and they are trying to understand what is happening to them. Instead of allowing them to seek help from WebMD and other websites that will leave them misinformed and scared out of their wits, teach them what they need to know in a way that they can understand. Listen to them and remember, just because you have explained a procedure a thousand times to other patients, this is the first time this patient is hearing it, so don't rush your explanations. Try to avoid sounding mechanical and robotic. Listen to them and calm their fears.
It's truly amazing what can happen when you take a moment to be compassionate and educate your patients. Once they understand the "why" behind your requests, they will be much more willing to accommodate you because they will know that you only have their best interests in mind. Be the nurse you would want caring for you and you'll know that you are truly an awesome nurse!
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