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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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In defense of nurses

Regina Brett Cleveland Plain Dealer

Nurses put up with a lot.

They’re greeted with, “Hey you … Yo … Lady … Nurse Ratched” … and choice words you can’t print here.

They also are called IV leaguers and the heartbeat of health care. Angels in comfortable shoes — that’s the title I’d pick to describe them.

The few times in my life when I’ve had the misfortune to be a patient, nurses came through for me. John in radiology called me honey and promised I would get through six weeks of radiation in no time, and I did.

Pam in chemotherapy spoke up for me when the anti-nausea drugs weren’t working, and she kept pestering the doctor for better medicine when I lacked the energy.

Countless others, whose names I never knew, watched over me. Anonymous blurs in scrubs, they left behind an imprint of compassion in the squeeze of a hand, the caress of a cheek, the fluff of a pillow.

Nurses are up there with grandparents and guardian angels. They don’t care if you throw up on them, miss the bedpan or hit the call light for water in the middle of the night when you’re scared and don’t want to be alone. They will go to bat for you against disease, track down doctors on golf courses, and skip meals and clocking out on time just to check on you one last time.

They are dedicated to the weak, the confused, the broken of body, mind and spirit. But too often, they get a bad rap from patients.

A national Medicare survey of patient satisfaction shows 73 percent of patients said their nurses always communicated well.

It could be that nurses don’t always listen, or maybe medical care trumps communication.

Patients ranked their communication with doctors better, but I’d wager that’s because expectations are lower. A nurse can spend all day checking your stats, fixing your IV, adjusting your sheets, but if a doctor speaks to you for 15 seconds, you feel honored for the visit.

I wonder how satisfied nurses are with patients. I’d like to see a survey where nurses rank how well patients treat them. Better yet, the patients’ families. Some of them are straight out of Jerry Springer.

Nurses have told me about family members who start fights in the ER. Untie a restrained patient. Poke around a gunshot patient for an exit wound. Bring babies and let them crawl on the floor. Smuggle in beer. Ignore isolation signs. Order in pizzas and leave grease behind. Feed diabetics doughnuts, then demand more insulin and threaten to sue if they don’t get it.

They mistake a hospital for a hotel and bark, “We’re paying for this.”

Look, no one wants to be a patient. The flimsy gown leaves you exposed to strangers. The bed isn’t as comfortable as the one at home. Interruptions all night would make anyone cranky.

Nursing is tougher than ever with hospitals wanting customer service, not just patient care.

People don’t go into nursing because they love paperwork, working holidays, or being on their feet for 12 hours. They go into nursing because they want to help people.

My guess is nurses would love to communicate better. If they had the time, they would. Perhaps they could use a bit more patience from their patients.

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