Those Who Comfort Us

There was only a tiny drop of blood. I was worried, of course, but I went to my OB-GYN for reassurance more than anything else. Maybe she would tell me I was doing too much and needed to rest. Maybe it was just normal. But as soon as she looked at the ultrasound screen, I knew.

Usually when I went for a scan, she immediately turned the screen toward me. Until now, every scan had been great. I had just entered my second trimester. The barrage of tests given to women of “advanced maternal age” had all come back normal. The baby’s heartbeat was strong at every visit, and I was riddled with nausea, something I’d been told was a “good sign.”

This time she stared at the screen for what seemed like forever. Then, quietly, she told me that my baby of 16 weeks’ gestation no longer had a heartbeat. Moments later, the high-risk doctor came in to confirm this. I turned away as he talked to my doctor about the “degradation” he could see, suggesting the death had happened over a week before. Somehow this terrible word—and image—is what stuck with me, even weeks after the event.

Later I entered the ambulatory center where I would have a […]

Night Watch

Editor’s note: In this tightly observed guest post, a nurse visiting a sick family member experiences the hospital as a kind of foreign country.

Eileen McGorry, MSN, RN, worked as a registered nurse in community mental health for over 30 years. She currently lives in Olympia, Washington, with her husband Ron.

The walkway is hard, the concrete cold, and I am immersed in darkness. Then there is the swish of the hospital doors and whispery stillness. The light over the reception desk shines on a lone head, bent over a book. A clipboard is pushed toward me. The paper on it is lined with names, some boldly printed, others scribbled, the letters unrecognizable. The spacious lobby is filled with individual groups of soft stuffed chairs and love seats. All of it quiet and empty. Over the chairs and sofas, the black of the midnight hour is changed into twilight.

I remember the bustle of the area at midday. Families gathered together, eyes searching the crowd for the green scrubs of surgeons. “She will live,” they say to some, and to others, “We will wait and see.” The frenzy of the day over, the empty chairs wait for tomorrow.

I sign my name in script. I use the old Catholic school script. The script preached by my mother, who is upstairs recovering from heart surgery. I walk past the chairs along walls so white they gleam. I […]

The Nurse Who Saw Me: Easing the Strain of a Mother’s Vigil

Illustration by Barbara Hranilovich. All rights reserved.

The Nurse Who Saw Me,” the Reflections essay in the May issue of AJN, is by JR Fenn, a writer and lecturer in upstate New York. The author, who is not a nurse, describes a night of uncertainty she spent in an isolation room on a pediatric unit with her sick daughter.

This is the kind of writing that helps a reader understand the perspective of a scared parent in a disorienting and uncomfortable environment. The care is efficient, and the clinicians she encounters all seem to be doing the right things for her baby. But reassurance is not immediately forthcoming, as we see in this passage from near the beginning:

The attending looks at us over her white mask when I ask if my daughter is going to be OK. ‘There isn’t the research for babies this young,’ she says, her eyes so huge I can see my terrified face reflected in them. I can’t ask any more questions because my throat has swelled closed as I fight tears.

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2017-05-10T11:09:22+00:00 May 10th, 2017|Nursing, patient experience|0 Comments

Nurses vs. Computers: Predicting Risk of Patient Harm

Not All Signs of Potential Harm Are Quantifiable

From chego101, via Flickr

Hospital nurses have many, many responsibilities and tasks, but one of the most important is to ensure patient safety by assessing patients for changes that can signal worsening of a condition or a new potential harm. Creating special units like ICUs, recovery rooms, and step-down units; flags on charts; various alarmed monitors; and safety huddles are a few of the ways hospitals have tried to identify potential problems. Now we have computerized tools to do this—or do we?

The complaint I have heard most from nurses about the electronic health record (EHR) is its inability to capture all the nuances of patient care or various patient problems, especially those that don’t involve easily quantifiable measures like heart rate or lab values. (For more detail, read our November 2016 report on nurses’ concerns with EHRs.)

One cannot accurately use a check mark to convey certain patient behavioral parameters or the “can’t put my finger on it but something’s going on with this patient” assessment that experienced nurses often make. In the April issue of AJN, we published an important study that investigates just this issue: “Identifying Hospitalized Patients at Risk for Harm: A Comparison of Nurse Perceptions vs. Electronic Risk Assessment Tool Scores

Deciding Whether to Implement an Electronic Risk Tool

Researchers […]

Identifying and Addressing the Profound Mental Health Effects of Climate Change

Residents amid homes consumed by flood and fire, White Sulphur Springs, WV, June 2016. Photo © AP Photo / Steve Helber.

A new word for an era of increasing environmental instability.

A lot of attention is currently paid to the physical impacts of climate change, including extreme heat events, droughts, extreme storms, and rising sea levels. Far less attention has been paid to the psychological impacts of this change. For example, you may not be familiar with the term “solastalgia.” It’s related to the older word “nostalgia,” but was created to reflect the environmental and often related sociopolitical uncertainty of our current times—that is, of change that’s slow and incremental, and often even denied, and then sometimes rapid and catastrophic and impossible to ignore.

The term is explained in more detail in an April feature article in AJN, “Climate Change and Mental Health,” by Janna Trombley, Stephanie Chalupka, and Laura Anderko:

Solastalgia is a term coined a decade ago by philosopher Glenn Albrecht . . . It refers to the psychological distress resulting from degradation of one’s home environment.49 Solastalgia can occur as a result of events that impact climate change, including drought, wildfires, and natural disasters.49, 50 When […]