Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How I learned to stop worrying and stopped giving a shit--and became a better nurse.

It's the classic nursing moment: after you've spent uncounted minutes putting a gorgeously neat, clean dressing on a wound, a doctor walks in, takes the dressing down, and wanders off without a word.

(Which makes me wonder about the nurses who reference this moment: are their doctors that unpredictable? I always catch mine in the morning and ask when they plan to round; it's easier to work in a dressing change after six neurosurgery residents have looked at it. Maybe they don't have easily-cowed residents.)

That, at the very least, prompts an eye-roll and the exhalation of breath through gritted teeth. That's the bottom of the nurse-exasperation scale: the top is the shouted "What the FUCK do you think you're doing??" Somewhere in the middle is the terse conversation, either with a doctor or a family member, in the hallway, with a candlestick and Colonel Mustard.

Y'know what? I no longer have those conversations. Or, rather, I do, but they're not nearly as terse.

I no longer sigh heavily when a patient has explosive diarrhea right after I've rolled out a new pad.

I no longer roll my eyes when I hear that Manglement has opened a new critical-care unit and hasn't hired anybody to staff it.

I no longer, in short, give a shit. And it's made me a much better nurse.

See, there are things worth getting upset about. If I have a post-aneurysm-clipping patient whose blood pressure won't stay down, even with all the drips I can throw at them, *that's* worth flipping out about. If I have an acute ischemic stroke patient whose pressures won't stay up, even with ditto, *that's* worth a phone call or two. If the pharmacy forgets to send the super-special tubing with that bag of potassium phosphate, then yeah, I'mma get on the line to them.

But the usual, boring, irritating stuff, like dressings hurled flang-dang all over the bed? Not worth giving a shit over.

Likewise, every single corner must not be exactly perfect on the top sheet when the patient's up in a chair. I'll have a chance to fix it once they get back in the bed. Every single label doesn't have to be printed out on the in-room label printer if doing so means my labs will be delayed by twenty minutes; I can always send 'em down with a plain, pre-printed label. I can, if necessary, deal with too many patients in one assignment, because I have learned how not to give a shit. I have, in short, learned to prioritize.

More than prioritization, though, the art of Not Giving a Shit has helped preserve my mental health. I have a colleague who is brilliant, talented, very-very-very smart--the sort of nurse who walks around with a halo of golden light because she is just. So. Good.

She loses sleep over minor stuff: whether or not somebody will get mad at her because she missed charting the KVO rate on an IV for three hours, or didn't match the P&P exactly when she ran hot salt on somebody. It affects her personal life, it sometimes comes close to paralyzing her professionally, and it makes her miserable. She needs to learn not to give a shit.

I would say to her: First, is the patient safe? If so, excellent. Is the patient comfortable? Even better. Is the patient clean, fed, and neat-looking? You get a gold star. Is the patient calm in their mind about what's going on? Then you can sleep easy.

The fact that you might not've checked blood return every two hours on an IV, instead letting it go to two-and-a-quarter or two-and-a-half hours, is not worth worrying about. You'd kept a weather eye on that IV, you knew it was good; fifteen or twenty minutes will not make the world catch fire. Five cc's an hour is not a huge deal.

My Not-Give-A-Shit list goes something like this, in order of Not-Givingest to Most-Givingest:

1. Emails from anybody with extensive lettering after his or her name. If it comes from the president of the university, it gets deleted right away.

2. Emails from management that go out to everybody. Those get deleted, usually, without being read. If it's important, they'll cover it in a staff meeting.

3.  Emails from management that go out to my unit. I'll glance over them.

4. Orders from doctors that say things like "be sure patient is fed dinner" or "turn Q2 hours." Well, DUH.

5. Saline locks that don't work on patients with multiple saline locks. I'll take them out and may or may not start a new one, provided that person has at least one other working IV.

6. KVO orders that don't conform to unit policy. I'll run your IV at 5cc/hour; I may or may not get around to rewriting the order that the doc placed for "KVO fluids." (In my head is the Grecian chorus of They Ought To Know How To Order It By Now.)

7. No orders for Tylenol when the docs have already ordered Norco. They're cool about me stepping a patient down.

8. Patients not getting turned or fed appropriately. This raises my hackles.

9. OT or PT skiving off a patient who they feel is too much trouble. In truth, I only have one occupational therapist that I have to watch closely; he looks for reasons to shorten his patient list. Dude, "patient already up in chair" does not mean you don't have to see them. The PTs and OTs where I work are spectacular. Except for that one dude.

10. Not breathing. That will get me full-on, hair-on-fire, running down the hall, giving a shit.

And I will have time to care, because I have learned how not to, for lesser stuff.