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When the patient is in no condition to lie for himself…

… then it is important that others lie for him.

This is the infamous story submission from Bongi, submitted to me a whopping 5 years ago. Bongi is a surgeon that blogs at other things amanzi, which is easily one of my favorite blogs.  Read on:

i was working in a private casualty unit to make extra money during my surgery training. (don’t tell the prof. it was strictly forbidden. one day i’ll post about the time i got caught.) it was some ridiculous hour. i was catching a nap when i was rudely awakened. the sister said an ambulance was expected to arrive in about 5 minutes with a possible epilepsy patient. i dragged myself out of bed. a medical case! absolutely wonderful. and at this time of the morning. just the thing to warm a budding surgeon’s heart.

i stumbled into resus just as the ambulance crew came casually strolling in with the patient. they told us they had been called to fetch the guy from work where his colleagues said he simply collapsed. they didn’t know why. something was wrong. he was restless. he was also pale. i felt his pulse. it was thready and fast. very fast. he had no drip up. being surgically minded, i thought that if i didn’t know better i would say he was bled out. fortunately the ambulance crew could tell me that his colleagues at work told them that he had been working in a dairy cold storage facility when he simply collapsed. i asked if there had been convulsions. they didn’t know. meanwhile one of the sisters was getting a blood pressure. 80 over 30 didn’t fit with epilepsy. a quick glucose test was normal. the only alternative was cardiogenic shock from myocardial infarction or some exotic dysrhythm. but once again, it didn’t fit. the patient was black. (white south africans have about the highest incident of ischaemic heart disease in the world, but south african blacks don’t have much of it at all.) then it happened. the patient, now gasping for every breath looked at me and said, “help me doctor! i’m dying!”

if you’ve been in medicine for a while you’ll know that most times, the reason a patient says he is about to die is because he is in fact about to die. i believed him. my blood went cold. it just didn’t fit. i wanted to tell him we’d do everything we could (although i still had no idea what i was capable of doing for him). in a reassuring way, i placed my hand on his chest. with every breath i could feel bones grinding against each other. i pulled my hand back in shock. he had broken ribs!!! epilepsy or cardiogenic shock or some heart problem does not cause broken ribs!! this was trauma! this was surgical! i jumped into action.

at that moment, the patient breathed one terminal gasp and promptly stopped breathing. for good measure his heart stopped beating too. nice bloody epilepsy, this, i thought. i delegated one sister to start cpr and another two to get iv access as i moved to the head to get airway control. the sister pumping the chest immediately stopped.

“everything is crunching under my hands” she said. what could be done? circulation is fairly important for survival, so i told her to continue. at this stage i was intubating. as i inserted the laryngoscope, fresh bright red blood came frothing directly out of his trachea. the trachea was also way over to the right. i shouted for someone to prepare an intercostal drain and slid the et tube in. the sister was fast. by the time i moved around to the left flank, the set was ready. i stabbed the blade into the chest. there was a gush of old dark blood. i shoved the tube quickly between the ribs into the pleural space. immediately one bottle filled with blood.

we consolidated. the patient was on a ventilator. two lines were running full tilt. with a touch of adrenalin, the heart started beating again (although i think the removal of the tension hemothorax also had a part in that). we got emergency blood going and got x-rays. we also called the thoracic surgeon.

the x-rays showed the worst disruption of the thoracic cavity i have ever seen, before and since. every rib on the left was broken and the fractured surfaces were about 5cm from each other. this basically meant there was a tear of the lung from top to bottom which was about 5cm deep. i gingerly reflected that that would explain the constant stream of blood draining from the intercostal drain.

as could be expected, the patient decompensated again. this time there was no bringing him back. when the thoracic surgeon arrived, the patient was already dead.

as usually happens, the story did come out. what the patient and his colleagues didn’t know was that the cold storage facility where they worked had closed circuit tv. this was probably to prevent night staff from stealing. or maybe to prevent them from racing around on a fork lift chasing each other. yes, dear readers, that is what they were doing when one of them lost control of the fork lift and drove into my patient, crushing him up against a pole. they figured they were in trouble already, so it seems they decided the depth didn’t really matter. if you are going to be in crap for messing with the machinery at night and for killing your colleague, then why not lie also to really confound any chances of the paramedics and the doctors to try to save his life. go figure.

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New Look! And Some Story Submissions

Recently, someone asked if they could use my logo on their brochure (neat!!).  I gave permission, then realized that maybe it would be nice to have a real logo.  I asked a dear friend of mine if she wanted to work on it and she agreed.

So what you see there at the top is the new logo!  I absolutely love it.  I think she did a fantastic job, and I wanted to give her credit here!  Her name is Meg Pike – this is her website, and this is her Facebook page.  Thanks Meg!!  It’s perfect!! (Don’t blame her for the colors – I picked them out.  Ha.)

I have a confession to make.  I have always welcomed story submissions (and I still do!), but I am not always very good about posting them.  To my great embarrassment, Bongi sent me one in 2007 that I held on to, but never posted.  Apparently in addition to being severely procrastinatory, I also hoard story submissions.  I emailed him to ask if he’d already posted it to his own blog; I’m assuming he did.  If he didn’t I’ll post it here.  (I promise!  Right away!  Fast fast!!)

I do have a submission from Jeanne from 2009.  She writes:

Have you ever leaped to the conclusion that a patient is a bit confused only to have him redeem his grasp of the situation by proving himself to be spot on?  Consider a 92 year old patient  who required assistance out of bed by myself and a nurse’s aid. He was your quintessential little old gentleman whose English pronunciation, as well as  sensibilities, had all the old world charm of European Italy. We also knew him to be vague, at times, with poor insight.

As we assisted him to the side of the bed for a transfer, he began to moan, “I’m a man, I’m a man.” We assumed that his consternations were related to his need to be assisted by women, and were strictly sociological in nature. We reassured him that, as a “man,” he was gaining strength with physical therapy, and that he was a “fine, strong man.”  Nonetheless, his protestations persisted, “I’m a man, I’m a man.”  We, in an effort to get the transfer accomplished, continued to reinforce to him  just what a fine man he was. Nonetheless, he continued wailing, “I’m a man, I’m a man.” Finally, I  got right down to eye level, hoping I could focus this gent back onto the task at hand. He looked me straight in the eye and proclaimed, “I’m a man. I’m a man. And I’m sitting on my goddam balls!!!”  Needless to say, this brought everyone down to earth in very short order,  and situation resolution was achieved.


Oh my.  Another story, this one from Alan RN, (also from 2009):

One of the times I felt I really helped a patient as a nurse occurred in the early ’80′s.  A male in his late 30′s had a motorcycle accident requiring a below knee amputation after post-op infections.  I worked with him in the ortho clinic over many months and learned he was a Vietnam veteran.  I was a Navy corpsman in the early 70′s but with no deployment to Vietnam, yet he still called me “doc” and we swapped military stories.

About a year later he returned after another motorcycle accident, now requiring another below knee amputation.  He was post-op on the ortho floor when I learned he was back. He was quickly earning the negative reputation among the nurses and physicians as a “biker”–throwing stuff, swearing, etc.  I talked with him and he confided in me that he was “going crazy” because of the child crying next door.  In short, the crying triggered what we now are learning more about–post traumatic stress syndrome and he was afraid to bring it up to the staff and not appear macho. Fortunately I had seen this in war vets while on active duty.  I spoke with the nursing staff and residents, and advised them to “back off” him and change his room.  Things went better for him after that and he calmed down enough to work with the staff through his admission.  These days with shorter length of stays it’s tough to learn enough about a patient–something to keep in mind if a patient is acting out, with more vets returning to civilian life now.


And finally, here is one from Linsey, RN (from 2010.  Hey, we’re getting there):

I hope that everyone reading this can congratulate me on my first ever blog experiences.  I am currently studying for my BSN and learning about blogs was a assignment of mine.  CodeBlog has stood out to me because it is unlike any other blog that I found and I will visit the blog regularly to see what interesting stories people are sharing. (Thanks Linsey!  Sorry it took me 2 years to give you your first blogging experience.)

I am a new nurse and have been at this career for three years.  I think that I will probably consider myself to be a new nurse until I hit the ten year mark because some days I am totally comfortable but some days I am totally lost.  There are nights I go home and can’t stop thinking about the events of the day… did I remember everything… will I get the infamous phone call from my manager that I messed up one of the fifty pages of paperwork I did that day.

Since I was a little girl playing with my tea-set I wanted to be a nurse.  Some kids change their career aspirations but all I ever wanted to be was a nurse.  In high school I almost lost my dream and fell into a downward destructive spiral… And then I buried my ten year old cousin and close friend.  That experience made me realize that I was wasting my life and I lost my bad friends, made some good friends and jumped right into school.

This experience and those of my family who have also had similar problems have made me the kind of nurse I am today.  I have learned to be patient with those around me whether they are staff or patients.  I have learned to accept all people for who they are rather than what society wants them to be.  Finally I have learned social skills that can’t be taught in a class but only learned through one’s life experiences.  Nursing has completed my life and soul.  It is wonderful to be in a profession that on most days, I am excited to go to work, I am excited to help people and gives me opportunity to realize how small my problems really are…That to me is the essence of nursing.


So there you have it.  Instead of being 5 (FIVE!) years behind on story submissions, I am now only 2 years behind.  Thanks for reading :)




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When the String is Cut

One of my colleagues recently died.

When I started at my current hospital, she was my main preceptor.  She was a stickler for getting things done correctly – no shortcuts.  When I would come across a patient or apparatus that I was unfamiliar with, all I wanted was for her to tell me what to do or show me how to operate it, but every time she insisted on having me look it up.

I came to appreciate the wisdom in that.

We worked together for several years.  She eventually went to a different department, I started working per diem, and we didn’t see each other much anymore.  But we’d run into each other here and there over the years.

She was very kind.  She wasn’t the type that was into gossip, but she did always want to know what was going on with you.

I saw her about a week before she died.  Everyone knew her time was short, including her.  Yet when you walked into the room, her face would light up and you’d get the impression that she was thinking, “Ah, just the person I was hoping to see.”  She handled the whole thing so much more gracefully than the rest of us.

I was thinking last night about how she simply isn’t in the world anymore.  And how weird that is.  I feel like we are all connected by invisible strings to the people we know, and when one string is cut, even the thinnest one, it throws you off balance.

I’m feeling a bit off-kilter for sure.

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Grand Rounds: Volume 8, No. 17

How’d we get to Volume 8 already?!  I think hosting this Grand Rounds finally ties me up with GruntDoc, who has hosted 7 times.  Grand Rounds is the weekly round-up of blog posts by medical bloggers.

Whereas in the past the host would post nearly every link they received, it appears that we are now moving towards more curated content.  I said in my previous post that I wasn’t going to institute a theme, but I was definitely more drawn to the personal-story type posts.  Thanks to everyone that submitted!

Ever been put in an awkward position?  How about if it was a position that you created yourself?  Bongi, who blogs at other things amanzi, describes a situation he found put himself in that he calls “buff and turf” – and it didn’t turn out very well for him.  He leaves it to our imagination to come up with what the other surgeon’s response was.

Working with children is hard.  Well, I think it’s hard.  I can relate to my own kids just fine, but finding common ground with a child you’ve just met and have only minutes to spend with is what I consider a unique talent.  The medical student that blogs at d.o.ctor used a classic technique to try to bond with her small scared patient.  Did it work?  Read on to find out.

What would you think if your nurse told you, “Buck up.  You’re going to feel terrible for a year?”  Would you believe it?  Jessie Gruman describes her insights as she worked her way through an entire year of feeling very “sick-ishly.”  I can tell you I found insight #3 somewhat surprising.  It’s something I simply wouldn’t have considered.

I shamelessly grabbed this next post from Twitter – Jordan, who blogs at In My Humble Opinion, wrote a touching post about mothers.  In Praise of Mothers wasn’t quite the post that I was expecting (and apparently the first commenter wasn’t expecting it either); it was even better.   And I’ve tried several times here to explain why, but I can’t.

And I shamelessly grabbed this one from Google Reader – Dr. V at 33 Charts shares his answer to the question, “How Often Should A Physician Blog?”  You could easily take the word “physician” out and apply the answer to any blogger.  I have been blogging for over 9 years now.  My posting frequency in the very beginning was about once a week.   Now it’s more like once a month.  He has some great insights that I found myself completely agreeing with.

What happens when you check up on a patient only to find that you’re the “last to know?”  In Duly Notified, Dr. Wes encounters an unsettling bit of difficulty when he opens the electronic chart of a long-time patient.

The next submission is an interesting read.  When someone suggests that you “build a coping system,” does your brain sort of shut off a little?   Yeah, yeah, coping.  Easy to suggest, a bit more difficult to implement.  But Will wrote a post that makes it seem doable.  He breaks it down into easy-to-digest sections and provides lots of suggestions.

Solitary Diner describes her “middle of the night chart review.”  Who amongst us medical professionals haven’t found ourselves in this position?  It’s a right of passage.  Welcome to the world of health care!

Medical Lessons brings up an interesting point – can cancer awareness initiatives go too far?  Where’s the line?  What if it seems silly to adults but might actually be helpful to children?  Should Barbie be bald in the name of cancer awareness?  (My take?  Sure, why not.)

Here are a couple quickies:  Insure Blog covers the situation of an autistic young man when a program his family has come to depend on is restructured – leaving them out.  Behaviorism and Mental Health explores a different perspective when addressing the problem of increased violence in California’s state psychiatric hospitals.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these posts I’ve selected for this Grand Rounds.  The calendar tells me that Volume 8, No. 18 will be held at USA Today (!), written by Dr. Val Jones.  Send submissions to val.jones at getbetterhealth dot com.  As always, thanks to Nick at Blogborygmi and Dr. Val at Get Better Health for keeping the whole thing going!




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Grand Rounds

Dr. V at 33charts is hosting Grand Rounds this week!  Go read his carefully curated links.  I liked what he said at the end about each host essentially bringing their own flavor to the ‘Rounds.  (paraphrasing there!)  There have been a few warbles here and there about how it should be hosted, but I’ve always thought that each blogger should do what feels right for them.

Having said that, codeblog will be hosting Grand Rounds next week.  It’ll be my 7th time hosting and I’m excited.  Mostly excited because now someone will tie up GruntDoc‘s 7-time-hoster record :-)  But!  Also excited to read what you send my way.   I have never requested that submissions conform to a certain theme, and I’m not going to officially request it now, either.  All submissions will be considered, but my favorites are the personal stories and anecdotes from the world of health care.  My past entries for Grand Rounds have been silly & gimmick-y, but I have a feeling that I’ll employ a simpler format this time around.

E-mail me at codeblogrn at gmail to submit; please put “grand rounds” as the subject.  I’d appreciate if you could get them to me by Monday afternoon at the latest.  Thanks!

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!!!

At the end of December, codeblog turned 9 years old.  It amazes me that I’ve been doing this for that long.  I was so excited when I was asked questions for the Reader’s Digest article “50 Things Your Nurse Won’t Tell You.”  My comments appeared in print, and in the online version here and here.

For that last link, the quote was this:

“If you ask me if your biopsy results have come back yet, I may say no even if they have, because the doctor is really the best person to tell you. He can answer all your questions.”

This blog took issue with that comment:

“And still another nurse admits that the nurse might falsely say that biopsy results are not back, “because the doctor is really the best person to tell you. He can answer all your questions.” The physician may be the best person to tell you about some things, but he–or she–can’t necessarily “answer all your questions”; nurses are more expert about a number of aspects of patient care. “

I stand by my comment.  If your biopsy results come back with a specific form of cancer that I know nothing about, I’m not going to march into your room and say, “Hey!  You have cancer!  Unfortunately I have no idea what they will do to treat it, if it even can be treated, or what your prognosis is.  And no, I also have no idea when your physician will be in to discuss these things with you.”

There have definitely been times in my life that I have just wanted to know.  But I think those times have been fairly straightforward.  I would have probably paid good money for someone, anyone, to call me with my betaHCG results when I was having symptoms of a miscarriage, but instead I had to wait for the doctor to call.  No one else would tell me.  But I had already done hours and hours of reading about what those numbers would mean and felt fairly prepared to interpret them on my own.  Every minute I had to wait was agony.

I think things would be different if I had no idea what to do with the results.  I would most likely be okay waiting a few extra hours for some results if I could get them from the doctor who could then answer my questions rather than have someone less knowledgeable report them.

Then again, maybe there’s something to be said for getting results and having a chance to do my own research so that I would have a chance to let the information sink in and be able to come up with appropriate questions.  I guess it’s a grey area.

Anyway, I was completely tickled to be in Reader’s Digest.  My grandmother read a LOT and I spent a lot of time with her when I was younger.  I also started reading a lot, and she had many books around.  When I went through all the books, I asked her what I could read next and she found a box of old Reader’s Digests for me to go through.

I (metaphorically) devoured them.  I remember one had a story about the Titanic and what happened hour-by-hour.  I read that probably 5 or 10 times.  Every issue had several interesting things to read.  She renewed her subscription and I was so excited when an issue would arrive.

I think she would be so proud that my name was in RD.  I wish she were here so I could show her.






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The Touch

So, Megen wrote this post recently about “Therapeutic Presence.”  The following passage really caught my attention:

Question is: are there more things in nursing, Horatio, than science can explain? Can we touch patients and zap them with calmness or take away their pain? Can we, by our mindset during our provision of care, substantially affect our patients’ outcomes? Can any of this be taught? Can we do it on purpose? I don’t know. That situation has captured my attention, though, because the flip side must also be true—if I despise my patient, she can probably tell that too, regardless of how tightly I’m controlling my behavior.


Little backstory:  A few weeks ago I had a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.  Basically, a very nice surgeon made a few incisions into my abdomen, inserted a camera and some wrenches or something, and took my gall bladder out.  I had never had surgery before.  Never been intubated.  I have been on “the bed side” quite a few times, but never for surgery.

A week elapsed between the time we decided to do surgery and the time the surgery actually happened.  It was a really hard week for me as I was very anxious about the whole thing.  I’m not even sure what exactly it was that I was nervous about.  I trusted my surgeon completely, I had full confidence in the hospital I was having surgery at, and I know it’s a procedure that is done thousands and thousands of times a year with a very low complication rate.

Still…. well, I guess I have never been completely unconscious in a room full of people who were looking at my insides.  I have never relied on a machine to breathe for me.  I had never been under general anesthesia before.  Basically, I was going to be vulnerable and exposed.  One of the biggest things that caused me angst, though, was that I would wake up still intubated.  The anesthesiologist assured me I wouldn’t remember being intubated at all.  That was helpful.  I believed him.

Anyway, I was supposed to tie this in with the passage at the top, wasn’t I?  The point is that I was very nervous and the morning of the surgery found me in the pre-op area holding back nervous tears, sometimes unsuccessfully.  I had the footies on, had the gown on, admission assessment was done, IV inserted and then we were just hanging out waiting for the surgeon.

One of the nurses who would be with me in the OR came to wait with me and she was genuinely so sweet and caring.  Her general demeanor really put me at ease.  We really were just waiting for the surgeon to show up; it was about 10 minutes past when I was supposed to go in.  I was in the middle of mentally deducting stars from my future Yelp review of him when he finally showed up.  We had a little chat, and then he left to go scrub.

In the meantime, a second OR nurse showed up in my little pre-op area.  When the surgeon left, and it was time to go, I started crying a little again.  The first nurse was at my side and was very sweet and reassuring.  The second nurse was behind me, to help push the gurney to the OR.  When she realized I was upset, she put her hands on my head.

I am not a touchy-feely person.  When my patients are distressed, I’ll put my hand on their hand or arm and that’s about it.  Before this experience, if you had asked me what would reassure me if I was upset, touch would actually be way down on the list, and touching my head?  No way.  But for whatever reason, her hands on either side of my head was exactly what I needed right then and I was immediately calmed by it.

Why? Why would someone find solace in something they would normally consider to be annoying?

By the time we got into the OR, I was ready for some pharmaceutical assistance.  I moved over to the (very narrow!) table, and as the nurse was strapping my arm to the board, the anesthesiologist appeared next to me.  I told him I could really go for a nice intravenous cocktail anytime and he said he already injected some Versed.  The last thing I remember saying is, “Well, I don’t fee…”  Heh.

I woke up in the recovery room and felt nausea and pain.  All I had to say was “hurts” and “sick” and I was out again.  The next thing I remember was being asked to scoot over to my bed on the surgical floor.  I said yes when they asked if I wanted some morphine for pain, and dang!!!  That stuff really burns.

I went home later that day and my recovery was very uneventful.  I was really amused to see that my incisions were covered in skin glue!!  No dressings at all.  Just 4 incisions with a coating of glue over them.

Anyway, I had barely even remembered what the OR nurse did until I read Megen’s post.  I think she’s on to something.




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Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Asystole.

At work, we have Voceras.  They are little phones that we wear around our necks.  We use them to call each other, other departments, take phone calls.  They were a little annoying at first and kind of hard to get used to using, but now we all use them every day and I personally have found them to be really helpful.  Our unit is large, and instead of walking around trying to find Susie Q RN to tell her she has a phone call, we just click our Vocera button and can reach her instantly.  Easy.

They added a feature a little while ago.  The Voceras now tie in with the patient monitors.  I don’t know how it all works; for all I know, the unit secretary brings out a magic wand, chants a spell, and then the monitor and Vocera both know what patient I have that day.  This results in a couple of things.

First, when MY particular patient puts their call light on, in addition to hearing it throughout the unit, my personal Vocera makes a sound so that I know without looking around that it’s my patient who needs help.  Next, and this is pretty interesting – when my patient has an arryhthmia, my Vocera makes a “do-dunk” sound.  It kind of sounds like a knock.  I look at the little screen and it tells me which room is alarming and what the alarm is.  All very helpful when I’m in my other patient’s room.

So one day, I had a patient that wasn’t doing very well.  We were communicating with the patient’s family and trying to decide whether or not to make him a no-code, or withdraw life support altogether.  It’s an understandably difficult decision to make and the family was struggling with it.  As the day wore on, though, the patient was becoming more and more unstable.  The monitor started alarming, which made my Vocera start doing its “do-dunk” sound when the patient started having bradycardia.  The family still wasn’t comfortable with the idea of taking him off of life support though.

Then it came to be my turn to go to lunch.  We had a break nurse, so she could completely take over caring for my patient and only my patient while I was gone.  I brought her up to speed on the situation.  As I left, I could see the family coming out of the room to talk to the nurse that took over for me.

I went to the cafeteria to get lunch, brought it back to the break room, and started to eat.  I was talking with a coworker about our kids when I heard the familiar “do-dunk.”  But when I looked at my Vocera, it said, “Room 2-0-1-1 ASYSTOLE.”

And that is how I found out, over lunch and lighthearted conversation, that my patient had died.

I told my co-worker what my Vocera said, and without even looking up she replied, “You know, you can push that ‘Do Not Disturb’ button.”

Um… yeah.

When I returned from lunch, the break nurse started to say, “Your patient…”

I just said, “Yeah, I know.”

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My turn to be interviewed!

Online Nursing Degrees is doing a series of interviews on nurse bloggers.

To learn more about how nursing students mature into seasoned healthcare providers, we studied popular nursing bloggers to see what they had to say on the subject.

We found the voices of dedicated professionals with intelligent conversations and compassionate stories illustrating what is happening: in hospitals, classrooms, organizations, public health, state-run or federally sponsored institutions, private hospice care, and more. These are nurses (some currently students themselves) who intimately understand the questions, concerns and the feelings shared by many nursing students: they embody the statement, “Been there, done that.”

You can see the whole series here (we are at the midpoint now, each day another link will go live).  My interview was posted today.  Enjoy!

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Interview – School Nurse

Well, what better time to post my interview with Erin at Tales of a School Zoned Nurse than now, when everyone’s headed back to the classroom?

Erin is a school nurse in the “cash strapped state of California.”  Her position covers two elementary schools and a middle school – almost 2000 students!!  She has been blogging since last year and her blog has definitely become one of my favorites.

She says she was never too set on working in a hospital.  After nursing school, she worked at a couple of summer camps, which gave her the idea to look into being a school nurse. She was hired right away and “leapt in without a second thought.”  She is starting her second year in this position.

Erin’s daily schedule is quite varied:  hearing and vision screenings, cleaning up playground accidents, making various referrals for a number of issues (such as dental and vision checks), scoliosis screening, making sure the school in compliance with state mandates (e.g. immunization requirements), checking on diabetic children and dealing with whatever else arises during the course of her day.

She blogs a lot about the parents of her students and I am almost always blown away by her Scary Parent stories.  She says incompetent and neglectful parenting is by far the most frustrating part of her job.  (Read Exhibit A, Exhibit B, and the continuing saga of Exhibit C)

One of the highlights of Erin’s job is her ability to be a good role model to the kids.  She’s spent time in the classrooms and after-school programs talking about her job and as a result, the kids got to know her and look up to her.  “It feels good to be someone kids turn to when they need someone to talk to or confide in.  It’s satisfying when I’ve made a different to someone, like seeing a student with glasses after making a vision referral.”

Being rather new, Erin does have other experienced nurses she can go to if she has questions.  She is the only nurse at her 3 schools, but there are 10 other nurses spread throughout the district.  They stay in contact often by phone and email.  But other aspects of her job aren’t as supportive – the computers she has to use are “from the dinosaur era” and she carries her audiometer and vision charts with her because there aren’t enough to go around at the schools.

Her position is salaried on a teacher contract, so she works 7.25 hours per day.  The timing is left up to the nurse since they cover different sites on different schedules.  Depending on what school she’s going to that day, her schedule is generally 8-3:15 or 7:30-2:45.  She’s able to accomplish what she needs to do in those hours, but not everything she wants to do.  “I can finish the required health screenings and state mandated requirements, but there is never enough time in the day for the other stuff that I want to do:  get new shoes for the girl whose mom won’t take her in, diabetes teaching for my newly diagnosed diabetics, following up on referrals so kids can get the glasses they need.”

To prepare for her job, Erin became a certified school audiometrist (a 4 unit class).  If she decides to remain a school nurse, California requires a separate license, which requires more education.

And of course, my favorite question:  One of the biggest complaints given by hospital unit-based nurses is that they rarely have time to eat or go to the bathroom. Do you find that to be the case with your job as well?

“I don’t always get to eat when I want to, but there is time during the day – eventually – to do so. I’ve learned if I bring a hot lunch I’ll probably need to reheat it at least once during my meal, because I usually take lunch at my desk and am frequently interrupted by tetherball accidents.”  (How many nurses can say that??)

My son will be starting Kindergarten this year and one of my main concerns is his peanut allergy.   His preschool was peanut-free and this will be the first time that he’ll be out in the peanut-filled world for such a long period of time without my own constant vigilance.  So of course I wanted to get Erin’s take on the current allergy situation:

“Food allergies are definitely a big concern, and though I haven’t myself, I know many school nurses that have had food allergy related 911 calls. It’s a huge gap in our care: nurses are technically the only epipen trained staff (just starting this year other school staff can volunteer to become trained, but most I’ve talked with don’t want that responsibility), and when we have three school sites we obviously might not be at a school site when an incident occurs. I do my best to reduce any incidents by first calling the parents to find out exactly what kind of reaction they might have – sometimes parents claim allergies when their kid just doesn’t like the food.  [Ed:  ARRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!!]  At the school, I notify the staff and call the student into my office so I get an idea of how well they understand their allergy. Then…. Then I just hope for the best. For parents, I really recommend talking directly with your child’s teacher and nurse – please! And bring in those Epipens!”

(Not only do I have 2 separate boxes of Epipens; one for the classroom and one for the office, I have a brand new bottle of Benadryl that I’ve already opened, taken all the plastic off and marked the appropriate dosage on the medicine cup.  I also have his photo taped to each bag of meds, which includes a copy of the doctor’s orders.)

And this is what Erin wants you to know about school nurses: “The job is what you make of it. I think there’s a reputation that school nurses have that is undeserved: we’re practically retired nurses working a boring job. There are certainly those nurses that do this job for the schedule, just like there are those hospital nurses that just do it for the money, but we’re not all like that. It just depends on how involved you are with your schools and kids; the more involved you are, the more you see there is to do, the more there is to keep you busier than you have time to be…but the more involved you are, the more rewarding it is, too, even if exhausting.”

Thank you, Erin, for giving us some insight about being a school nurse!

(My post about this project and a list of interviews done so far is linked here.)

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  • profileI am Gina. I have been a nurse for 15 years, first in med/surg, then CVICU, inpatient dialysis, CCU and now hospice. This blog is about my experiences as a nurse, and the experiences of others in the healthcare system - patients, nurses, doctors, paramedics. We all have stories!

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