American Journal of Nursing: The Language of Kindness

As a child, Christie Watson could not decide what kind of career she wanted. Marine biology appealed to her, as she had “visions of wearing a swimsuit all day… and swimming with dolphins.” A teacher proposed law, telling her parents “[s]he can argue all day long.” After quitting school at 16, Watson took a job with an organization called Community Service Volunteers. A nurse there suggested she try nursing: “They give you a grant and somewhere to live.” To the surprise of Watson's family and Watson herself, nursing stuck, and I'm thankful it did.

Posted on February 11, 2019 and filed under AJN.

How to Quantify a Nurse’s ‘Gut Feelings’

At the start of my shift, at 7 a.m., my patient, newly admitted a few days before for a blood cancer, was talking and acting normally. By the end of my shift, 12 hours later, she had grown confused and her speech was garbled. A CT scan revealed bleeding in her brain. She was sent to intensive care and died the next day.

Posted on August 12, 2018 and filed under New York Times.

American Journal of Nursing: What I'm Reading

A few years ago at a meeting of the ad hoc ethics committee at my hospital, we were discussing the issues that arise when treating obese patients. Someone brought up the case of an ICU patient, a young woman who weighed 500 pounds. The ICU nurses complained, sometimes loudly, every time she needed to be moved. Their grousing appalled our chief medical ethicist, but I understood the nurses’ reactions. They likely feared incurring a serious injury from lifting such a heavy patient. This conundrum—how do nurses safely provide high-quality care for people who are obese—will become ever more relevant as the prevalence of obesity in the United States continues to rise.

Posted on June 1, 2018 and filed under AJN.

Many Drugs and Many Doctors Lead to Many Mistakes

I am a home hospice nurse, and when I get new patients after they have been discharged from the hospital, the list of drugs included in their paperwork is always wrong. Some mistakes are minor: The list includes a relatively harmless drug the patient no longer needs or it leaves off a minor dose adjustment. But other mistakes are more serious — the list may include an important prescription the patient never knew to fill or may have the patient on two medications that can be dangerous when taken together.

Posted on March 14, 2018 and filed under New York Times.

I felt her arms around me, firm and strong. 'This is treatable,' she said, soothing my fear. 'They can cure this'

The diagnosis of cancer, when it comes, is like having a bucket of icy cold water thrown hard into your face. Fine one minute, in the next the vision blurs from the smack of fluid, and the pain from the cold is so sharp the skin feels pierced. There’s a sense of injury, the asking of why, the realization that this unbearable soaking wetness defines the new normal of one’s life.

Posted on March 13, 2018 and filed under Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

American Journal of Nursing: What I'm Reading

Most nurses probably don't know enough about the economics of health care and health care policymaking in this country. The idea that the provision of health care occurs within a complex political and economic system barely comes up in nursing schools—even though health care costs make up roughly one-sixth of the U.S. economy, and the public–private system under which health care is financed and provided drives many policy decisions.

Posted on December 12, 2017 and filed under AJN.

Breast Cancer is Serious. Pink Is Not.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I have breast cancer. The country is fully pinked out in support of breast cancer screening and research, and though I know all the pink is meant to make me feel good, to tell me that the entire country has my back, I actually find it profoundly alienating. Pink is not a serious color, though cancer is a very serious disease. Pink is about femininity; cancer is about staying alive.

Posted on October 30, 2017 and filed under New York Times.

American Journal of Nursing: What I'm Reading

“The conversation between doctor and patient… should be viewed as the single most important tool of medical care,” Danielle Ofri says at the end of her new book, What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear (Beacon Press, 2017). I find her conclusion gratifying, since nurses are trained in the importance of talking with and listening to patients (full disclosure: Ofri quotes me on this topic). In contrast, physicians are trained more in a “chief complaint–solution” model, so conversations often turn into physician monologues. While this is understandable, Ofri says, for the sake of high-quality patient care, it must change.

Posted on August 24, 2017 and filed under AJN.