Patient’s Rights Shouldn’t Be at Nursing’s Expense

Group of nurses, Base Hospital #45

Group of nurses, Base Hospital #45 (Photo credit: The Library of Virginia)

Providing nursing care is an intimate business. Nurses are at the bedside for births, life-threatening injuries, chronic conditions, and death. They become familiar with both a patient and their family. Helping people navigate these life changes takes compassion and empathy. There are days it is damn hard to be a nurse.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, if you’re in the hospital there will always be a nurse on-site. Budget cuts, staffing issues, increasingly complex machinery and treatments all contribute to the stress that nurses must deal as well as twelve-hour shifts, mandatory overtime, and working holidays and weekends.  Nurses are expected to keep patients safe, use resources wisely, and provide culturally competent care. The nurse is required to respect each patient as a person.

That makes it even more distressing when a hospital disrespects a nurse and her rights as in a recent lawsuit against a Michigan hospital.

The lawsuit alleges that a nurse of 25 years standing in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was told by her supervisor she would no longer be assigned to care for an infant because the baby’s daddy didn’t want African-American nurses caring for his child. The man showed the supervisor a swastika-type tattoo in relating his request. According to the lawsuit, the baby’s chart was prominently marked to indicate no African-American nurses were to be involved in this infant’s care. This was honored for a month before the hospital attorney stepped in and had the notation removed.

English: The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NIC...

English: The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Kapiolani Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know what the hospital was thinking, other than to make the customer happy, but they should have told the man that they weren’t going to allow his hateful beliefs to compromise the care of his child and demean their employees. They could have offered to transfer the child to an institution willing to make those choices, if they could find one. They could have had their Ethics Board review the case and come up with an appropriate plan of care that didn’t imply that African-American nurses were any less competent, worthwhile, or caring than their white, Hispanic, or Asian counterparts. They could have done something.

Woman at work--registered nurse

Woman at work–registered nurse (Photo credit: yooperann)

Instead they bowed down to the demands that were not only hateful, but illegal. If the allegations are true, for an entire month qualified, trained nurses were told they weren’t the right color to provide care and that’s just plain wrong.

The Best Time to Get Drugs

If you’re a woman, the best time to get drugs (best defined as that which is the most excellent, outstanding, or desirable)  is, if you’re so inclined during childbirth. Really. When you’re having a baby.

Why you say? Because, in popular opinion, childbirth is incredibly painful. So painful that men, unable to compete in this pain category, equate kidney stones (universally acknowledged to be super painful) to the pain of labor. What do they give you for a kidney stone? Pain pills. What can you get while in labor? An epidural. The power of the epidural is well-known. Many woman ask for it by name, to the point where movies and tv shows have an obligatory scene where the laboring woman asks “is it time for my epidural yet?” as if that is the purpose of labor.

I will digress. Why do men have to equate kidney stones with childbirth as if it is some sort of contest?  When I look at medical technology, I see much care and diligence in ensuring the male healthcare experience is kept as pain-free as possible. The big indignity men suffer is the turn and cough (while pressure is applied to the scrotum) and the finger wave (in the rectum). By contrast, woman must endure a mammogram, which involves flattening the breast tissue  between two plates, and a pelvic exam, which includes the insertion of a  speculum, a metal instrument that looks like a duck’s beak).

English: Mammography in process: Shown is a dr...

Speculum Spectacle

Speculum Spectacle (Photo credit: cote)

Wow. Seems like men might want to compete with some of that pain. Perhaps testicular cancer screening via mammography technology? Let’s see men undergo a yearly squeezing of their testicles until flat. And finger wave? Perhaps the doctor really needs a speculum to get a good look at the prostate. It’s not that I want to see more pain in the world. I only wonder why men seem to get off easier. Is it only coincidence that men dominate the medical field and male-centered interventions seem kinder and gentler?

But back to epidurals. As a nurse who once worked in childbirth, I found my patients divided on the subject of epidurals or other drugs in labor. There were the “give it often and early” adherents and the “ignore my screams of pain because I’m having this baby naturally” proponents. Me? Hey, I tried natural childbirth through back labor, slow progression, and the eventual discovery that my 10 pound kid wouldn’t fit through the birth canal. By the time the decision was made that only a c-section would remove her, I wanted to be put out like a junkie wants another fix.  Fell in love with the anesthesiologist the second he put the mask over my face and told me in a few seconds I’d be asleep. Anesthesia is my favorite memory of that experience.

But some woman outright reject drugs for childbirth. They become fixated on the idea that the only “right” way to have a baby is without medication. They want to work through the pain, even though too much pain can slow down labor.  And, it’s not like anyone is keeping track of who had pain meds and who didn’t. (Well, we did, but only for statistical purposes. We had no access to our patient’s permanent record to add this information.)

And thought it might be a worthy and noble ideal to have a drug-free childbirth, taking something to help doesn’t make you weak or less of a mother. It makes you a normal human being.  Much better to fall back against the pillows, a happy smile on your face, and able to relax between contractions than to be bolt upright, red-faced, and screaming like a foul-mouthed harpy. I’m not advocating an epidural for everyone, but it’s strange how women  enter the labor process determined to turn down drugs no matter how bad things get. Why not see how things go and cut yourself some slack. If you need help, ask.Never having had a kidney stone, I don’t know if the pain is equivalent to labor pain. What I do suspect is that if men underwent childbirth, there wouldn’t be a big discussion about whether pain medications were appropriate or not.  They’d take them if it was painful, refuse them if it wasn’t, and not bother to assign a value to the act. Why didn’t we think of that?