The Nurse as Patient

Mar 07, 2018

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As a nurse, it made me become more passionate about what I do, more caring. I spend more time with my patients talking to them. I spend more time explaining to them procedures that I’m doing to them … It just reinforced my feelings about care and the need for empathy for and with them.

Tamara Norton

We all know about the incredible care provided by our community of exceptional nurses. But what happens when the script is flipped, and nurses are the ones who need to be cared for? What happens when nurses become patients?

Stephanie Trowbridge

It should have been the best of times for Stephanie Trowbridge. The veteran critical care nurse had just given birth to her first daughter. But her euphoria quickly took a dark turn.

Tell us about how things started for you.

After I had my first daughter, I started hemorrhaging — but it was slow hemorrhaging, and so it wasn’t really that obvious. I got transferred to the postpartum unit. I just was really not feeling great, and so I called my nurse in.

What happened then?

Well, it was close to the end of shift, and I said, “I think something’s wrong.” She didn’t hesitate to go into action. Within an hour, I had five nurses working with me, and my doctor was with me. I think I had lost close to 2 liters of blood and was rushed to the OR.

My baby was safe in the nursery, and my husband nervously stood at my side. The lab tech couldn’t draw my blood with a BP of 60/40. I was losing blood fast. A newer nurse fumbled with my vitals. The charge nurse directed care, while my doctor quietly performed an ultrasound on my abdomen. As I, an ICU nurse, tried to manage my own care, there was a force of calm still in the room.

What do you think it was?

I have no doubt — it was my bedside nurse. She had given report, was about to leave for the night, when I rang my call-light. She was the Florence Nightingale of my hospital experience. I couldn't tell you her name, but how I remember her.

How much do you remember at that point?

My distinct memory — because I was close to not being coherent by the time I was wheeled into the OR — was my nurse … that it was past time. She should have been home two hours before, or an hour, or something like that. I don't know exactly the time, but she stayed right by my bed and made sure I was in the OR safely, and, man, she kept me going.

Sounds like she was kind of a guardian angel.

I mean, being an ICU nurse who's trying to control her care while she's hemorrhaging is a little tricky. But she was calm and would whisper things in my ear — like I was doing fine, and my baby was fine, and my doctor's right next to me. So even though I had been a nurse for five and a half years, it was pretty instrumental to have her show me what I wanted to be doing all along.

Did you see her again?

I did. The next day she came in for a meeting. She came in to check on me, and she said, "I didn't sleep all night because I was just so worried about you, and I love seeing you up and happy." She said, "Oh, my gosh, this made it so worth it." I told her, "I'm sorry you had to leave late," and she just said, "No, this is what we do, isn't it?" I said, "It is. It is." So, this was a really great ending.

Do you recall anything else about her?

She was a seasoned nurse. She showed adequate concern, moved quickly to get help and took time to explain things to my incoming nurse, the new one who was obviously scared of my situation. She moved closer to my face when I was starting to lose consciousness, touched my hand, reassured me. She told me her plan and who came in the room to help her. The last thing I remember before the anesthesiologist took over was her telling me she would take care of my husband and my 5-hour-old infant until I was safe and back in my room.

Did you find out her name?

No, but I could probably pick her out in a crowd, and I’ve seen her three, four hours of my life. So it was just like, “Yes, that’s the kind of nurse that we all should be.” That’s definitely who I want to be as a nurse.

How did her care and your experience during this time impact your career or nursing philosophy?

Incredibly. She became the model for my nursing philosophy. To be attentive to patients — not only to their needs and concerns but also to them and who they are. To be responsible for their safety while under my care. To obtain and use clinical knowledge to provide better, safer care. To offer hope and perspective in the midst of honest communication. Excellence in communication does not only extend to patients and families but also to the interprofessional team. To listen and be humble because I have been and may be again in their shoes one day, either as a patient or as a teammate.

Did this experience reaffirm anything you’d already felt as a younger nurse?

To be courageous to speak up for what is right and to take care of myself in order to care for others with ease and eagerness. To model and mentor these behaviors and standards whenever possible and whenever appropriate.

Tamara Norton

Anterior cruciate ligament injuries and subsequent rehabilitations are becoming more and more common. But what happens when the healing process doesn't go as well as it should, and even though you're a critical care nurse, you're the one in the bed? Tamara Norton found out.

How did your ordeal begin?

About two years ago, I had torn my ACL — a grade-three tear, which is a complete tear — and had it repaired. And, about six weeks into that rehab process, I developed a joint infection. Three weeks after that, after going on IV vancomycin, which was administered through a PICC line, I developed what’s called DRESS syndrome.

That doesn’t sound good.

No, it’s not. It’s drug reactive with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms. I went into severe septic shock, went to the emergency room and spent four days in the ICU.

Besides physically, how did this impact you and your career?

I never imagined in my life that I would be on the other side of the bed and be the patient. It wasn’t frightening at the time. When I look back at it now, it’s terrifying what I went through. But everything that I went through just changed my life in many, many ways.

How did it affect your outlook as a nurse?

As a nurse, it made me become more passionate about what I do, more caring. I spend more time with my patients talking to them. I spend more time explaining to them procedures that I’m doing to them. I talk to my patients when they’re sedated, paralyzed, just because I feel like they possibly could hear me, and I think it’s soothing. I spend time touching them, putting lotion on them. It just reinforced my feelings about care and the need for empathy for and with them.

So it has affected your delivery of care.

It has changed me so much. I feel like I was a very empathetic nurse before. But now it’s probably tenfold. I now believe that even though nurses are so sympathetic and empathetic to their patients, you really don’t know what it’s like until you’ve actually been there. And, since I have that firsthand experience now, my nursing practice has truly changed.