A lot of nurses hate the Showtime series “Nurse Jackie,” which will wrap up its sixth season on Sunday evening. Actually, to be precise, they hate the show’s lead character, the emergency department nurse Jackie Peyton. There’s much to dislike: She is an adulterer, a liar, an unreliable mother and, most significantly, addicted to prescription painkillers. (That’s hardly giving anything away, but be warned: spoilers ahead.)
“What if we gave her some aloe vera gel?”
The question was from a thin woman, and though her query came out of desperation, her face was pinched with fury. She was a relative of the patient in the room, a young woman who was dying of an infection.
A classic “Far Side” cartoon shows a man talking forcefully to his dog. The man says: “Okay, Ginger! I’ve had it! You stay out of the garbage!” But the dog hears only: “Blah blah Ginger blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Ginger …”
As a nurse, I often worry that patients’ comprehension of doctors and nurses is equally limited — except what the patient hears from us is: “Blah blah blah Heart Attack blah blah blah Cancer.
My patient was shaking uncontrollably. People say such shaking feels unbelievably bad, but rigoring, as the medical profession calls it, is treatable with the narcotic Demerol. I hurried to the computer to order some from the pharmacy, thinking “rigors = Demerol.”
For several hundred patients at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, it started with a certified letter informing them that they were no longer allowed to see their physicians. The reason? They were unlucky enough to have insurance called Community Blue, which is offered by a rival hospital system. Astoundingly, they were barred even if they could pay for the care themselves.
We nurses all have stories — if we’re lucky, it’s just one — about the time we failed a patient. It’s usually a problem of being too busy: too many cases, too many procedures to keep track of until one critical step, just one, slips through our frenetic fingers and someone gets hurt.