A nurse in patient clothing

Nursing students make terrible patients. More specifically, I make a terrible patient.  In my role as a student nurse I am an advocate, a supporter, and a teacher.  This summer, however, the tables got turned and I got the opportunity to be on the other side of the bed-rail.  Being a patient is a familiar role for me, but it is one I do not easily adjust to. As a patient, I got to view the nursing process from a whole different perspective.

I have congenital problems with my feet.  Ongoing complications over the past several years required surgery in order to continue to meet the physical requirements of my job and future career.  As I donned that gown and slid the surgical paper cap over my hair, the familiarity of the hospital setting suddenly felt frightening and very overwhelming.

In the first place, I had not realized before how terribly cold the pre-op holding area is. Full of banter and chatter from the nursing station, I listened to snippets of conversation and lunch menus trying to focus on anything but the fact that I was freezing and feeling very exposed in my thin gown. A nurse came in with a reassuring smile and a blanket from the warmer.  Heaven never felt so good!  She ran through my pre-op checklist and assured me that everything was set and ready to go.  An IV was started and a bag of Ancef was hung behind me.  In my mind I began to recite Cephalosporin pharmacology; anything to avoid staring at the needle aimed at my arm and to refocus the angst of surgery. As I was wheeled into the surgical suite I tried hard not to stare directly at the passing lights overhead. If I thought pre-op was cold, the surgical suite was downright freezing!  I started to shiver. The machinery and equipment from the angle of a surgical table looked bigger and far more ominous than I had remembered. They seemed to hover overhead like large, bright space ships. Even the fluoroscope in the corner seemed freaky all covered in plastic. Glancing around I understood clinically why the various tables were draped as part of the sterile process, yet, in my mind, it also seemed plausible that alien lasers and implantable microchips were hiding under all those drapes.  I took a deep breath, scolding myself for watching the Bourne Identity too many times.  I’d like to say I remember the rest of it but a large mask seemed to fall from the sky with the voice of God telling me to take deep easy breaths. From that point on it’s all a little foggy. I was told later I tried to bargain for a local anesthetic so I could observe the procedure.  Hey, why not? This was good clinical stuff!  A girl’s gotta try right?

As the anesthetic wore off I could hear voices calling my name through a fog but somehow that same fogginess had an amazing grip on my body and I just couldn’t shake it. I tried to speak but I was certain someone had shoved sand down my throat.  Then the pain hit, and not slowly either!  I wondered how a freight train managed to run over my foot in the operating room. Fortunately, there are opiates for just such an occasion. As the room started to spin and the pain subsided the nurse was quick to reassure me everything went well and I would be feeling more alert soon and not to fight the fog. I nodded, still trying to dislodge the sand.

A month out of surgery I am getting back on my feet and preparing for the challenges of senior year. I proudly display my six inch battle scar on the medial side of my left ankle.  My doctor found it amusing, but not surprising, that I had cleaned and re-dressed the wound myself throughout my post-op healing.  This was wound care, up close and personal!  Ultimately, this experience reminded me of the kind of nurse I want to be. Going into IP I am strongly considering surgery as a placement. Now having the perspective of a patient, I see the role of the OR nurse a little differently.

Having nurses that were confident eased my fear as they kept me informed of the process. Having that information in a situation where I was otherwise powerless worked wonders to ease my feelings of vulnerability. What had the greatest impact were the little things; the warm blankets and taking the time to get to know me as a person outside of my pre-op patient questionnaire.  Asking if I was in pain in a way that seemed genuine was twice as effective as routinely parroting the 0-10 pain scale question.  Gentle encouragement eased my frustration as I struggled through the fog of anesthetic recovery. These are the little differences that make good nurses great.  These little things keep the alien lasers and the implantable microchips away. We had talked about patient centered care in class but experiencing it firsthand made the impact very, very real.

Make no mistake; I am never going to be a great patient. I am still prone to procrastination and self-diagnoses to the ire of my doctors. While I may not be an ideal patient, it is my hope that having patient experiences like these will make me a wonderful nurse.