By Amanda Anderson, a critical care nurse and graduate student in New York City currently doing a graduate placement at AJN.
Photo by Morrissey, via Flickr.
There I was, orienting to a busy medical ICU, perplexed over a bedpan. You’d think, since I was just graduating from nursing school, that bedpans would be my area of expertise. Critical thinking and vent strategies came easy; how could I possible admit I had no idea how to give a bedpan to a patient?
Frightening, to graduate from nursing school and a competitive externship program without this competency. Somehow, though, every unit I’d experienced offered patient care assistants, or patients who didn’t need this age-old tool. I’d certainly helped patients to the bathroom and cleaned incontinent ones. Despite the barrage of clinical learning, the basics of offering the pink plastic tool hadn’t sunk in.
Paralyzed, I stood with it in my hand, looking at my intubated, awake patient. I’d had the wherewithal to ask the family to step out, but couldn’t figure out which end went first. The horror of my preceptor finding it backwards would end me. Did the pointed end go towards the patient’s back? The larger end toward the feet for better coverage? Why couldn’t I remember?
Somehow, I managed to decide, and with heart racing, I urged the patient: “Turn to the side!” We both grimaced: I grasped the bedpan with one hand and his right hip with the other, while he reached towards the opposite side rail. His body, heavy with fluid, resisted my timid and inexperienced grasp, and he rolled back onto his back, without bedpan.
My preceptor, just passing by, or discreetly watching from her secret post behind the curtain, arrived just as I was about to start my second try. From the opposite side of the bed, she pulled his body towards her and I placed the bedpan where I thought it should go, praying to the ghost of Florence Nightingale that I’d positioned it right.
If it hadn’t already been so, this experience made it clear to my preceptor that, while I was confident in my nursing knowledge, my skills weren’t up to snuff. Instead of choosing a final clinical placement in a med-surg unit or intensive care, I had opted to spend my senior year working in public health. When I decided that I wanted bedside experience before specializing, I figured I’d just pick up what I missed on orientation.
For some reason, understanding when to intubate a patient came easily, but giving a bed bath? Terrifying. In our unit, we had no patient care assistants, and my preceptor’s goal was to teach me how to perform all patient care without any help. “I don’t want you to do everything by yourself all the time; I just want you to know how to do everything by yourself.” Read the rest of this entry ?