Consent and ethics

Nursing is fully aware of consent. We know that we need to have documentation that the patient accepts this treatment. It’s a no brainer. But, what if the patient doesn’t want treatment and the power of attorney does?

Prime example, you have an elderly patient that is obviously letting the family talk them into surgery. To no one’s surprise, it doesn’t go well. They end up sick. They have to remain intubated. They need an art line, central line, pressors, the works. Even on the ventilator they are adamantly shaking their head no to all the things you’re trying to do. They are fighting. They keep trying to pull away. They don’t want this.

Their family does.

The POA is who the doctors decide to ask for consent to treat. They completely bypass the patient. They’re intubated, they can’t answer for themselves right? If course the family wants everything done… So, everything is done. Is that fair to the patient?

Shouldn’t the patient be allowed to say no without having someone else choose otherwise? What is the fine line that decides when a patient no longer has the capacity to make their own decisions? Does intubation automatically take away that right? Does having a POA take away that right? If a patient is clearly communicating, even in the vent, shouldn’t we respect their wishes?

The nurse in me says yes. The nurse in me says to respect my patient’s dignity.

The nurse that’s been at the bedside for almost 8 years knows that that is normally not the case.

I have seen advanced directives ignored because the patient is unconscious and the family isn’t ready to let go. I’ve seen cases like the one mentioned above. I’ve seen doctors watch as the family is almost forcing a patient to go along with treatment and the doc just goes along with it as well. I’ve had to be a part of “moral distress” meetings because nurses were stressed over the ethical dilemmas involved in certain cases. When do we stop?

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PJP and HIV

Most of us are aware of HIV and how it affects the body. We have been taught how the virus attacks and destroys the immune system. It is not the attack on the immune system that directly kills a person.  It’s all those opportunistic infections that eventually weaken and often times finally kill HIV/AIDS patients.

PJP, “pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia”, is one of the most common opportunistic infections to befall an HIV positive patient. This particular type of pneumonia (or as one of my patients pronounced it “ammonia”) is caused by a fungus commonly found in the environment. For those of us with a normal immune system, it does us no harm. For the immunosuppressed patient, however, it can be dangerous and possibly deadly. For a patient with severe PJP, it can lead to ARDS which has a high mortality rate. Having HIV does not mean a patient will automatically become infected with PJP. The infection typically manifests when the CD4 count is low. This is a really good article describing PJP and its relationship to HIV/AIDS. Here is another good article by Medscape that talks about the fungal pneumonia and how it functions.

You are probably wondering what made me write a blog on a type of pneumonia that you may not have heard of before. Well, I am a nurse and also a state certified HIV tester. HIV is becoming a passion for me. However, that’s not the only reason. See, back when I was a med-surg nurse, we had a patient that I can’t forget. He was a 22-year-old young man that was in and out of the hospital with chest pain, complaints of difficulty breathing, fever, and other rather generic symptoms. His chest CT showed the opacities in the lung. The doctors were sure he had pneumonia but he didn’t respond to most therapies. Furthermore, he’s a young guy, he shouldn’t have a recurrent pneumonia presentation like this. Enter our infectious disease doctor. He decides this guy needs a bronch. We are done guessing, he wants to get a bronchial sample so we can figure out what is going on. They began testing the sample for what type of pneumonia it was and it came back as PJP. He immediately asked for the patient to be tested for HIV. The resident nor I really understood why. Of course, I had to ask. His response? “When I see PJP I think HIV.” I asked him what he meant by that. That’s when he began to tell me about the fungal infection and its relation to immunosuppressed patients. In his words, “you just don’t really see it in people with a healthy immune system. Our guy wasn’t a transplant patient. He wasn’t on chemotherapy. So, what other reason would a man his age possibly be immunosuppressed?”  Turns out, he was HIV positive and did not know. His CD4 count was terribly low. I witnessed this man’s life change in the blink of an eye. He didn’t take the news well, but I couldn’t blame him. That was not the last time I saw him. He was in and out of our unit with pneumonia or thrush. He wasn’t really compliant with his meds. No one in his family knew what was going on with him. He wouldn’t allow visitors while he was in the hospital and would sit in his room all alone. It was heartbreaking. Then he stopped coming into the hospital. I held out hope that he had finally started taking his meds and got better. Deep down, I knew that wasn’t the case. Turns out he did come back into the hospital, just not to our unit. This time he was intubated in the ICU. He didn’t make it. He was just too sick and had been sick for far too long. Because of him, because of his case, I will forever remember an obscure pneumonia that I haven’t treated since.

So, I thought I would share a little bit of obscure information because… well… why not?

Are there any cases that stand out to you? Leave a comment and let me know.

“Do you have any allergies?”

How often do you ask your patients about their allergies? Better yet, do you clarify and ask about medication and any other allergies?

We get in the habit of trusting our doctors who order the meds and the pharmacy that verifies the meds. However, we may need to get into the habit of asking about food, medication, and “any other” allergies on admission.

When doing the admission database I used to always ask whether the patient was allergic to any medications. That’s all I figured I needed to know… until a patient was negatively affected.

Way back when I was a Med-Surg nurse there was a patient that needed a CT scan. No big deal, he tolerated the scan fine but his kidneys, however, did not. We started noticing his BUN and creatinine creeping up, his urine output decreasing, all for no apparent reason. He just didn’t look as good as he should. He said he has had a CT scan before and never had any trouble. He had no known allergies. He was not a renal patient. It didn’t make sense! One of our nurses happened to be in the room giving him a saline bolus to see if we could get his urine output to pick back up. He was questioned about his previous CT scans again and this time he mentions that one time they “put something in his IV “and it “made him sick and put him in the hospital” but “that was years ago.”

Oh really?

Well, guess who had a CT scan with IV contrast… Mind you, he said he had no allergies. Turns out because of his education level he only considered medications to be the pills he took at home so the IV contrast allergy didn’t register with him. I don’t think he even understood that his reaction was an actual allergy.  He didn’t really know what IV contrast was and since we only asked about meds, he didn’t see a reason to mention it.

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Looks like we found our problem guys.

Needless to say, that changed how I asked about allergies. I try to keep my patient’s education level in mind when asking questions. I want to make sure they understand what I am asking them. It is my job to keep them safe. As the nurse, we are often the last safety check before something reaches the patient. We block all the foolishness from getting to our patients because we are awesome.

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Healthy nursing

I’m fat. I don’t say this to elicit responses of “aw don’t say that!” or “you’re thick, not fat!”. No. I say this because it is what it is. I am about 50 pounds overweight. Forget the BMI. I will always be borderline obese unless I get down to a weight that I am not comfortable with. I have hit a weight in which it has become uncomfortable. I have hit a weight that affects my work. I can’t walk up a flight of stairs. My knees hurt. My scrubs are all tight in the thighs and they are all a large at least. Don’t get me started on trying to do CPR. Two minutes of chest compressions and I am about to die. I’m telling the patient to participate in physical therapy while looking like I need it too. I’m 34. That’s not ok.

I know when all of this started. My back got really bad last year stemming from an old work-related injury. Being the hard-headed nurse that I am, I ignored it until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. My coworkers, who have been awesome at helping me not stress my back anymore, convinced me to go see an orthopedic doc. I finally did in October of 2017. Several appointments and a bilateral L4,5 and S1 denervation later, I finally feel like myself again. The back pain has decreased dramatically. So now I have no excuse. I used to go to the gym regularly to destress. I am going back. I still have my gym membership and dammit it’s time I use it!

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I want to be the nurse that can grab the code cart and not need a breathing treatment by the time I get it to the room. Not cute…

I am giving myself six months to drop these 50 pounds. I’m realistic. I know if I try to give myself too short of a timeline I will get discouraged. I want to be a healthy nurse again. My patients deserve me at my best.