Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Work Hangover Wednesday: Target Practice



Note to readers: A short version of this blogpost appeared today on KevinMD.

What a week.

First of all, I was sore as hell after that 5k! That 24 hour run didn't give me anywhere near as much residual soreness as the race this past weekend did. My hamstrings, butt, and quads are all still screaming! This week I will do a few easy runs to get back into it, next week will be the first week I do anything resembling training.

And it's Nurses' Week.

Yes I know I've said a lot about nursing lately, and when I'm not training and racing, I have no running news. But I know there are a few readers out there who are all too eager to read what I'm going to say next, and a very small number are licking their chops and waiting for me, like predators.

Ask any nurse about Nurses' Week, and you'll more than likely get a snarky answer. Yes we like to be praised for the work we do, it doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it feels good. It makes up for a lot of the day-to-day garbage that we endure.

Yesterday I was touched, for example, by a patient who told me she was thinking about me when she heard about the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and wondered if I was there, and hoped I was okay. She remembered that I had a race coming up but she didn't know it was in Cleveland. She saw me yesterday when she came in for her appointment, and told me she was so happy and relieved to see that I was safe.

That is the kind of thing that nurses appreciate, it makes our day. It can make your whole career worthwhile. Why? Because it re-affirms the bond from human to human. It validates the connection between us and our patients, that we have so much in common, even when our lives and circumstances can be opposite extremes. Nursing is about being human.

Nurses and teachers are two historically female-dominated professions that are highly respected and desperately needed, but undercompensated and undervalued. This week also happens to be Teachers' Week, imagine that! Right before Mother's Day. Maybe the little trinkets and sweets designed to obesify already unhealthy nurses or teachers are intended to kill them off so they can bring in a whole new crop, as they'll be cheaper than the old experienced ones.

I'm an athlete, a writer, an artist, and a nurse. My whole identity is not wrapped up in nursing. It makes me take a broader view of the nursing profession, I can see it in a different light than someone who considers it "who" they are.

Don't get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with someone who considers their occupation to be their primary identity. I admire people who can focus on something like that when it's their passion. There are career nurses, and then there are people who are nurses, part of the time. But when you're there, you need to be there, 100 percent.

If nurses don't speak up about issues that might affect their patient care, then why be a nurse? Nurses are supposed to think critically about the things we are doing and how it affects the patient.

And historically, nurses also have this REALLY bad habit of not advocating for themselves and for each other, and for their working conditions, compensation, and expectations of them as human beings.

Why? When you talk to nurses everywhere, it seems that critical thinking is not allowed when it pertains to the nurse's workplace. You speak up, you become a target.

Before I further offend anyone who might be a little sensitive...let me assure you that it's this way nearly EVERYWHERE in the corporate world! That doesn't make it right, at all. Ever.

Powers-that-be worry because they can't control everything that is said, it's hard to avoid people saying things that don't match a carefully orchestrated and expensive PR agenda, so they get super-sensitive and defensive when people criticize them. When corporations are people, they get their feelings hurt. It doesn't matter if it's a small community or a big city, in the age of the "Internets", the truth gets out faster than a BP oil spill.

Back to nursing, nurses also have the reputation of eating their young. When you live in a pressure cooker, which might be a bad metaphor right now post-Boston, frustration comes out in the form of aggression. And that leads to illness.

So, in honor of Nurses' Week, I propose that nurses everywhere need to break out of the habit of being quiet and complaining amongst themselves, and feeling powerless to change things. It never accomplishes anything, like my friend Joanne said last weekend, the profession is still in the same cycle that it's always been stuck in. Things need to change and it's going to take a huge effort. If it's too hard to change from the inside, then perhaps it needs to be changed from the outside.

All of this goes way beyond healthcare, as I've said over and over again, it's a political and legislative issue, we've got this country set up in a way that hurts people. Nurses need to advocate for the public's well-being, too. I saw another person's opinion in the "soapbox" page of our local paper this morning, what he said was essentially the same thing I would say. People need to wake up and stop acting powerless, no one is going to make change happen except for us.

Until there's a national initiative to start giving out coupons during Nurses' Week for plastic surgery to have smiles permanently stuck on our faces, it's going to be hard to expect intelligent, hard-working, empathetic, caring human beings to be Stepford Wives.

Nurses are among the most stressed out workers out there. Masses of overworked, exhausted, unhealthy nurses are going to have to save themselves, or it will just go on like this forever. Why work a job that you can't stay in without being on antidepressants? Or a job where you find yourself gaining 10 or 20 pounds a year? A job that wears you out so much that you don't get any quality exercise on your work days, and you spend a day or two after your work week recovering before you have the energy to get out and do anything?

Unfortunately the state of things is that nursing is sick care, and while caring for the sick, nurses become sick themselves, because of the lack of support they receive for engaging in such demanding, needed work. Nurses are human, we work with human beings, and no bean counter or consulting firm anywhere can quantify the value of what we do. We need to find a new way of valuing nurses' work, it needs to be quantified differently, and not viewed as an expense, but an investment in our society.

There are those who think I should be a good meek little nurse and not give my opinion about these things. And I care passionately about this stuff or I wouldn't be saying it! If I get a target on my back because of it, just remember that violence is a resort of the weak.

So there. That's my Nurses' Week rant. The truth hurts. Work hangover or not, even in the rain, I'm going for a run.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

For Nurses' Week, our hospital administration sent each nurse a thank you card, with an insert stating that in honor of the nursing staff, it is donating $2,500 to the Patient Care Professional Development Fund. Isn't it interesting to see an institution give itself a tax-deductible donation, all in the name of honoring its nurses. I would rather have been able to get health insurance......

Alene Gone Bad said...

Sad. I'm sure every nurse appreciated that as much as you did. $2500 doesn't go very far... will barely even cover the cost of one course for one nurse at your average university.