It’s hit home

I have been following COVID-19 since December when I first heard about it, and it was still being called the “Wuhan Flu”. Reading what the CDC is saying, reading WHO recommendations, reading articles about it, and so on.

But it was over there and I am over here. I kept up with the information but it remained at a distance to me. I was curious as we nurses are, but I wasn’t yet concerned. It hadn’t hit home.

And then that started to change. First Washington state. Curiousity turned to slight concern because now it’s on home soil… but still it was over there on the west coast and I am over here safely on the east coast. Then it hit California. Now I’m following it far more closely because it’s spreading. However, somehow in my mind I was still safe. That’s when I started hearing about cases in Florida. Okay, now it’s over here but it’s states away.

I’m still safe.

And then it hit Washington DC.

It hit home.

It was only a 2 hour drive away. That’s when I began closely following everything. I’m watching the news, I’m reading all the WHO and CDC updates. I’m trying to learn all I can. It hadn’t yet hit my city though and there was still that little idea that I was somehow still safe.

That idea dissolved when I heard about the case in one of the hospitals in my area. More cases followed. Now my hospital is dealing with cases and it’s a nightmare. We are now rationing masks. We have to be mindful of how many antimicrobial wipes we use because there is a limit on how many containers of wipes we can get a day. The department I am in cares for inpatients and outpatients so our risk of exposure is high. The ER is at the front line. God bless those providers. Visitation has been suspended. People are being screened before walking into the hospital now. I’m no longer concerned, I’m officially rattled to my core. It feels like things are spiraling out of control and as a nurse that’s a big no-no! States are having to go into quarantine. We haven’t hit that yet but I don’t think it’s far away. It feels unreal, like a movie almost. People are panic buying everything. I can’t find a roll of toilet paper anywhere. I had to go to two stores to find garlic…GARLIC! Who panic buys garlic?

The panic and fear is real.

It’s serious and we need to make sure we are taking it seriously. My colleagues and I have been making sure to teach patients proper hand washing techniques. We are all trying to send each other health care memes to keep our spirits up.

It’s not been great for my anxiety.

I can only hope and pray that we start to get things back under control. I hope humanity can band together and get through this as one. I hope we see that the differences between us are nothing in the grand scheme of things. I hope we as a people come out of this better than we were before.

Addiction

Addiction is rough. I witness it with patients everyday.

I encountered a patient with necrosis in the arm and it’s not a small area of necrosis, it’s pretty much the whole forearm.

They still shoot up in that arm.

The addiction is so strong that they are willing to literally risk life and limb for a high.

It’s sad and disturbing.

It makes you realize just how strong addiction is. We in the medical field often blame the patient:

“Why won’t they quit?”

“They obviously don’t care!”

“They should know better!”

“They did this to themselves.”

I’ll admit, I’ve thought that about patients. I’ve been judgmental even when it’s my job not to be. I’ve generalized and stereotyped people.

I am calling myself out for it.

It’s not my place to judge, it’s my job to treat.

It’s not my job to wonder why a person is suffering from addiction, and they are suffering.

It’s not my job to scold and belittle a patient for being addicted.

It is my job to provide the best care I can. It is my job to connect them with substance abuse counseling if they want it. It is my job to provide as much education as possible. It is my job to be their nurse. I’ve got to remember that.

Alpha-gal syndrome

I learn about new disorders all the time here in MRI. Normally I’ve at least heard the name of the disease or disorder before, or I know a teeny bit about it.

I have never heard of alpha-gal. At least, I’ve never heard the name.

Turns out, I have heard of the disorder before. I had a patient once tell me he was allergic to pork because of a tick bite.

Alpha-gal is a “sugar molecule found in most mammals (except in people, apes, and monkeys)” (CDC.gov, 2019). Turns out there is a tick (lone star tick) that can transmit the molecule in blood from the animal to humans. We humans don’t normally make the molecule but apparently we can make an immune response to it. If we develop an allergy then we can no longer eat meat from cow, pork, rabbit, deer, lamb, essentially the animals work hooves! The odd thing about it, and what makes it kind of hard to diagnose, is the fact that the reaction tends to take place 3-6 hours after the ingestion of meat. It’s hard for a lot of people to make the association between meat and their allergic reactions.

I found a good podcast about the disorder. Lots of information about how it works and the ongoing research around it.

One of the things I realized while looking further into the disease is how important it is to ask your patient about allergies. Alpha-gal is uncommon, however, patients with it can’t have certain medications. Heparin is typically derived from pork. Some insulin is derived from pigs and cows as well. There are quite a few medications that have porcine or bovine derivatives. A nurse would have to make sure to take this into account for their patient with this particular allergy.

Then again, when is the nurse not taking safety into account, right?

Team

You need a team.

If you’re a nurse, you need a good team. There is no way to survive on any unit without team work.

When you interview for a position, ask about the team work. How well do the nurses work together? How is bullying handled?

You’ll want to know these things. A unit that isn’t a team is a unit headed to hell in a hand basket. It can’t function effectively. Trust me, I’ve worked on units where it was every nurse for themselves. It was horrible. There were nurses that wouldn’t help with the new admission. It took an act of congress to get someone to help clean up a patient. Gossip spread like wild fire. Nurses ate their young for fun. It was two years of nursing that I never want to experience again. From that point on I decided I would not waste time on units like that.

That’s why finding about the team mentality is so important. You want to work somewhere with nurses that work together. You want to work in an environment that is not toxic. Regardless of how the shift is going, you want to know your coworkers have your back.

Nursing isn’t a solo job. We aren’t super heroes that can handle everything on our own. We have to depend on each other to get through the day. When the shift is nuts, you want someone you can vent to. When you aren’t able to save the patient, you want someone that understands the pain. You’ll want someone you can ask questions to that won’t make you feel like you’re stupid. You’ll want a team.

Do yourself a favor, find a good place to work.

Pacemakers?

My hospital is one of the few in our area that will perform an MRI on patients with pacemakers.

It makes me nervous.

I KNOW it’s supposed to be considered “safe” now. The newer pacers and defibrillators are being made to be compatible with MRI scanners.

It still makes me nervous.

I just don’t feel I should be throwing a person, with a magnet sensitive device, into a giant magnet. I feel like it’s a risk everytime I do it. Is an MRI of the wrist really necessary on this 79 year old man with a pacemaker/defibrillator combo? Like, is this life or death? Are you going to do surgery?

No?

Then why are we taking this risk?

I just don’t like it.

Do any of your facilities perform MRI’s on patients with pacemakers or defibrillators?

“Exceeds expectations”

So, it’s evaluation season. Doing my own eval is uncomfortable for me. It feels like I am tooting my own horn, so to speak. I don’t like talking about myself. I don’t want to sit down and tell you about the great things I’ve done over the past year.

So, I sit down for my eval with my manager… As we start going over each section she tells me the ratings she has given me.

They were all “exceeds expectations”!

What?

I have been a nurse nine years. Every eval I have gotten was rated “fully meets”. I was always content with that. However, for the first time I exceed. My manager started mentioning all the things I’ve done that’s she’s noticed. She gave me compliment after complement for the care I deliver. I honestly didn’t know she paid that much attention. She manages over 100 nurses, she’s always on the move. However, she makes it a point to stop by our department and check in on us. She is always available. To be honest, she’s the best manager I have worked for. To know that with all she is doing, she still noticed my hard work, it felt great.

My actions are not so that I can be noticed. I just do what’s right for the patient. Ultimately, that who we are here for. I never thought I was going “above and beyond”.

It was a great feeling.

I’m in the right place. I’m definitely in the right place…

July…

It’s July. For some of you that’s no big deal. However, if you work in a teaching hospital July means something deeper… Darker…

The “brand new” residents begin their rotations…

Chaos ensues.

If you have had the pleasure of avoiding the July rush, you’re lucky. For the rest of us, there’s a sense of impending doom.

So many orders. Most make no sense.

-pediatric doses ordered for adults.

-level one head CT for “AMS” on your 98 year old patient with known dementia.

-12.5 mcg of fentanyl q3hrs for your chronic pain patient.

-one unit of blood for an hgb of 5.

-MRI of the ankle to look for osteomyolitis of the toe.

Many, many more orders from an alternate reality…

In this moment, it is your time to shine! You are the only barrier between your patient and a doctor that is still getting their bearings. You’re going to have to speak up, a lot. You’re going to have to advocate. You may even have to knock a new doc off their self-appointed pedestal (when they tell you you’re “just a nurse” please refrain from punching them in the throat).

You can do this. Take a deep breath and remember: you’ve made it through many July’s and you’ll make it through many more…

Set up… To fail

So, the higher ups have decided to implement new changes in our department to make us more “efficient”.

😒🙄

Are the changes going to work?

No.

I say no, not because I am against change. I embrace change and fully believe medicine is an ever changing field.

I say no because the changes are rigid.

Our department is very fluid. We may not have a single patient one minute, and the next minute 6 outpatients are here and there is an vented ICU patient on the way down and a patient waiting to go back to their room. Our patient flow changes throughout the day and unfortunately the decision makers don’t recognize that. They see numbers. They see productivity. Pie charts and bar graphs.

Patient care just doesn’t work like that.

However, we are going to implement the changes. We will go along with what management wants. We will grumble and groan as we see how poorly the changes work. We aren’t afraid to speak up. The speaking has been done. At this point, we are going along so we can watch the changes fail and create more problems. We are doing this so that they can see how inefficient their decisions are.

Sometimes the only way to get through to someone is to stop talking.

CIDP

In nursing, we are always learning something new. Sometimes we learn about a new med. Sometimes we learn about a new use for a med. Sometimes it’s a new side effect. Sometimes it’s a disease you weren’t aware of.

As I’m writing this, I just came across a disease I never knew existed: chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy.

Say that five times fast!

I had a patient that had an MRI of the brain and complete spine ordered (that’s at least two hours) and the reason was “CIDP”. I have never come across this abbreviation before so I had to hit up good ol’ Google to find out what it is.

Turned out to be very interesting, at least to me.

What is it?

CIDP is rare. It’s a disorder where there is inflammation in the nerve roots and peripheral nerves. It also destroys the myelin sheath over the nerves. This inflammation and destruction interfere with signal transmission. Patients notice muscle weakness, impaired motor function, and it’s typically noticed on both sides of the body.

How is it diagnosed?

According to the rare disease database put together by NORD (National Organization for Rare Diseases), the symptoms of CIDP progress slowly. Patients notice “symmetric weakness of both muscles around the hip and shoulder as well as of the hands and feet”. These symptoms must continue for at least eight weeks without improvement to be considered CIDP. Patients may also undergo EMG’S, nerve conduction studies, lumbar punctures, and MRI’S to help lead physicians to the diagnosis.

Why do symptoms have to persist for so long, you ask? Great question.

Turns out, Guillain-Barré syndrome is kind of an acute form of inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. With GBS there’s typically a preceding virus or illness. GBS progresses over three or four weeks. The symptoms plateau, get better, and don’t re-occur.

The extended period of time is to differentiate CIDP from the acute forms. With CIDP, the symptoms don’t get better without treatment. GBS is usually related to an illness while CIDP doesn’t really have a known cause yet.

How is it treated?

Corticosteroids and immunosuppresants are the standard treatments. According to the NORD article I linked to, IVIG has also been proven effective. It seems that plasma exchange has also been an effective form of treatment. However, both forms of therapy only last a few weeks and the patient may need intermittent treatments.

I spent about an hour reading about this disease because it was so new to me. That’s something I’m trying to make sure I do, read up and learn about the new things I come in contact with here in the hospital. I know I can’t learn everything. That isn’t going to stop me from trying though!

Step one

So…

I’ve done step one. I’ve applied to a nurse practitioner program.

I’m terrified!

Am I smart enough?

Can I handle this?

Can I afford this?

Is it worth it?

Will I be able to find clinical sites?

Is this the right decision?

This is a really big committment. A lot of my time and finances will be going into this and I wonder if I’m ready for it. I have been bouncing back and forth between career paths and decided that I can do what I would like to do with an advanced practice degree.

Patient education is my passion and I know that as an NP I will get the opportunity to try and make a difference. By working in the “clinic” setting I will be able to try and prevent admission to the hospital by providing care and education on their health. I want to stop patients from being observers in their health care. I want patients to be a participant in their care plans. An educated patient does better. I love when patients comes into my current job and tell me all about why they are getting their scan. It let’s me know they are involved in their health. Those patients area typically in better health than my patients that have no idea what’s going on.

I know I’m doing this for the right reasons. I just don’t know if this is the right time. Then again, when is the right time? I can always find a reason to not do something. Life is always throwing me curve balls. I might as well step up to the plate, swing with all my might, and hope to God I knock it out of the park!