Nosey Nurses?

I’ve spent many, many hours within the healthcare system.  In fact, if you add up all the hours I have spent with any form of medical provider I bet it would add up to half as many years as I’ve been dealing with this pain. That being said I think it’s safe to say I’ve seen it all when it comes to patient care.

I’ve had the BEST nurses (Shout out to the Fairview staff) who keep me more than comfortable both before and after surgery. Anesthesiologists who know to have me seeing double when it’s time to roll to the OR because I am going to have my anxiety attack at the exact moment they come to say “let’s go.” Seriously, the same day surgery staff over at Fairview-top notch.  While I hand my glasses to The Hubs and kiss him “See ya later” they are pushing that lovely juice into my IV so I forget the whole deal.  Post Op nurses who bring me ice packs and make me punch in huge pitchers with a straw because it’s all I want. Nurses who let me call the shots when it comes to switching up my meds so I can get home.

I’ve also see the worst. I’ve been tested for pregnancy more than twice since having a Hysterectomy in 2012, even after I’ve told several different care team members that I don’t have the necessary plumbing. I’ve had multiple veins blown in my left arm, even after I requested they put the IV in my right. I’ve had MRI techs turn the lights off in the MRI room while I’m still on the table waiting to be unstrapped because they get to go home early. I’ve listened to care providers discuss patients right outside my door while I can hear every word (HIPA anyone?) and I’ve been told that it’s my fault the staff on the med/surgical floor can’t control my pain because I take pain medications at home. And you can bet I’ve called patient relations every single time.

Not for the reason you think though. My intentions are never to get anyone in trouble. Ever. My purpose is to advocate. To advocate for myself, and every single patient who comes after me.  No woman should ever have to pay for a pregnancy test post Hysterectomy. That’s just bad listening skills. No patient should ever be questioned when they say “please put the IV in my right arm.” They are the patient and they know their bodies. Listen to them. A complaint from a coworker will only go so far, but a complaint from a patient? Especially a patient who knows the ropes? That speaks volumes.

Today’s post comes from a place of frustration as I realize that since the beginning of my journey down the road of chronic pain I have been subjected to several counts of voyeurism in the medical world.

When you check in for an appointment, procedure, scan, etc. the nurse who checks you in does your vitals, reviews your medication lists and does a brief once over of why you’re seeing the doctor. If the nurse checking me in hasn’t met me before the conversation always goes like this.

~

Nurse: Let’s go over your medications and supplements. Are you still taking Cranberry?

Me: Yes. (At this point I face the screen and point to each one and say “yes” or “no” to each item.  There are about 10)

Nurse: Why are you on {insert pain medication here}?

Me: For Chronic Pelvic and Back Pain.

Nurse: Oh wow, when did that start?

Me: About ___ years ago.

Nurse: Could you be pregnant?

Me: (Laughs) No.

Nurse: What kind of protection do you use?

Me: I don’t have a uterus so….I’m pretty sure. (Laughs again)

Nurse: Oh no! But you’re so young!? Did you get to have children?

Me: Yes, between my husband and I, we have three.

Nurse: Oh, that’s good. Did you want more?

Me: Well……. We got a kitten instead.

Nurse: Oh, (laughs) I guess that works! The doctor should be in shortly.

~

How much of that information do you suppose is practical knowledge that she needed to do her job?

None. And none of it was her business.

I often get one of two responses during this exchange; pity or judgement. They feel bad for me because I’m “so young”, “too young”, to deal with this. Or they judge me based on my medications. Sometimes they ask how old my kids are and they tell me I’m much too young to have kids that age. Which is funny since, well, there they are!

Again, not their business.

Once or twice I’ve tried to end the questions by saying something along the lines of “I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t see how this pertains to my appointment.” But I’ve gotten such awful responses that I felt it better to just answer the questions. Today’s nurse did not disappoint. She asked all of the above questions, and added in “How are you still functioning on those medications?” with such incredulousness in her voice I thought she might fall out of her chair. When I shrugged it off she asked me if I intended to get off the pain medications.

Nah. I figured I would just continue to shove them down my throat and forever give up on my dreams of a pain free life. What?

Again I ask you; what does that have to do with the follow up to my surgery from April?

Not a damn thing. She was just curious. And I think I probably satisfied her thirst for a story to tell her friends in the break room. Shit, at this point I bet there are at least 5 nurses who could figure out who she was talking about without even using my name. Kinda sad huh?

When did it become the norm for me to have to tell my medical life story to every single person who comes face to face with me? When did being a medical professional become a license to pry into the extremely personal journey of a patient that you have no ability to treat? My treatment plan won’t come from this nurse. She won’t order any labs for me, or interpret any of the results. In this case, this surgeon wouldn’t even have that much sway in my pain management since it was a fatty tumor that had nothing to do with my other goings on.

So all of her questions were for nothing more than break room conversation. Which makes me wonder how many other patients have found themselves in a position like this. The feeling of power is odd here. On the one hand the care providers have information and knowledge you don’t, and they earned it. On the other hand, you’re the one who foots the bill to spend those precious 15 minutes with said provider. So really, who holds the upper hand here? It’s a toss-up. I mean, I generally want the doctor to help me feel better when I’m sick, which they won’t do if you’re not nice to them. But then, without patients they wouldn’t have a practice and the cycle continues.

And so again, come Monday I will make that call to Patient Relations and discuss with them the best way to respond when being asked these questions. I will express my frustration with the nurse who just could not hide her shock at my medical journey, and I’ll probably throw in the fact that my surgeon was looking at her iPhone instead of my face while she was in the room. And I urge all of my fellow Spoonies to do so too.

Speak up, speak often. Be the squeaky wheel. The only way anything will change is if we make some noise about it. We need to make respectful interactions the norm with patients, and we need to educate our providers on what it means to be chronically in pain. Textbooks can only teach so much. The rest is up to us.

*This post comes with no disrespect to those of you who work as a nurse. In fact, I consulted a fantastic one before I mouthed off about this to be sure I was seeing things correctly. Besides, its my blog, I can write what I want :)*

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