Military Metaphors, Unnecessary Admissions, New Blogs, Keeping Secrets

It’s a common scenario: a 90-year-old resident of a U.S. nursing home — call her Ms. B. — has moderately advanced Alzheimer’s disease, congestive heart failure with severe left-ventricular dysfunction, and chronic pain from degenerative joint disease. She develops a nonproductive cough and a fever of 100.4°F. The night nurse calls an on-call physician who is unfamiliar with Ms. B. Told that she has a cough and fever, the physician says to send her to the emergency room, where she’s found to have normal vital signs except for the low-grade fever, a normal basic-chemistry panel and white-cell count, but a possible infiltrate on chest x-ray. She is admitted to the hospital and treated with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. During her second night in the hospital, Ms. B. becomes confused and agitated, climbs out of bed, and falls, fracturing her hip. One week after admission, she is discharged back to the nursing home with coverage under the Medicare Part A benefit. The episode results in about $10,000 in Medicare expenditures, as well as discomfort and disability for Ms. B.

There is an alternative scenario, however . . .

That’s from an article in NEJM called “Reducing Unnecessary Hospitalizations of Nursing Home Residents.” In any health care system of as much complexity as ours, there’s bound to be a huge amount of waste. The article gives a good example of how the skills of NPs might be put to excellent use both saving a lot of money for Medicare and making the lives of nursing home residents a whole lot nicer. It may be cheaper, but it’s not “rationing”—it’s rational.

Now a matter of language rather than money: the Viewpoint essay by Kathleen Thies in the October issue of AJN is about the use of military language to refer to nursing staff. Here’s how it begins, and you can click the link to read the whole article, including the author’s suggestion for an alternative terminology. We’d love to know whether the author’s perspective resonates with you:

How often have you heard the term frontline staff used to refer to direct care nurses and others working at a patient’s bedside? It conjures images of the great world wars, of soldiers marching across battlefields to fight the enemy. The infantry are invariably young, dispensable, interchangeable. Commands are issued by generals and passed down through the ranks. No questions are asked.

Blog roll update: We’ve added some interesting new blogs to our blogroll (they’re not new blogs, actually, just new to our blogroll). A few of them are by MDs, such as The Carlat Psychiatry Blog and Movin’ Meat, and a couple of are by nurses, such as madness: tales of an emergency room nurse, which has a good short post about why it doesn’t always help to be a nurse when your family member is in the hospital (there have been a few posts on this topic lately in different venues, I think?). Also added: The Nursing Ethics Blog, which is run by two people, a nursing professor/ethicist and a philosopher. It should be interesting to explore.

As the editor of the Reflections column (and this blog), I read hundreds of submissions each year about dying patients, with a subgenre of submissions devoted to dying infants or miscarriages. This makes sense: nurses see more than their fair share of loss and tragedy, and it’s inevitable that these are the experiences that will touch them the most deeply, as they are for most of us. Even so, we’re always delighted when someone surprises us with a perspective or a topic we haven’t seen, whether related to death and dying or not. We’ve accepted a few submissions lately that are decidedly upbeat, or even funny. This month’s Reflections, “Keeping Secrets,” has some death and dying too, but the angle struck us as compelling because of its perspective on a time many of us may have forgotten (or been too young to experience), and for its wisdom about the costs and ironies of keeping secrets. Here’s how it begins:

In the spring of 1988, two months after my husband, Clarence, was diagnosed with AIDS, I went to work as a pediatric AIDS nurse at a clinic in New Jersey. Clarence had fought in Vietnam, and now he was on the front lines of this epidemic. I felt a need to be there too. It was a time when treatment options ran out fast. The kids I cared for got very sick and soon died. Activists were marching in the streets with signs proclaiming “Silence = Death,” but for many, AIDS was something to be whispered about or not spoken of at all. I became a keeper of secrets, and one of them was my own.

We hope you’ll read the entire essay, and pass it on if you like it, or let us know your stories of health-related secrets, past or present.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

(The Viewpoint essay about military metaphors and nursing referenced in this post was also mentioned in a piece at Scrubs magazine here.)

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2016-11-21T13:11:50+00:00 September 29th, 2011|nursing perspective|3 Comments
Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. […] AJN has a mixture of military metaphors and unneccessary admissions. […]

  2. jm September 30, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Hadn’t thought of that angle, Suzanne, but it makes sense. Does this mean you agree that the use of military metaphors like ‘frontline’ to describe nurses is not a good thing, but not so much because it implies conflict, as the writer had argued, but because it’s applied too narrowly, i.e., just to those nurses who are working at the bedside? -JM

  3. suzanne September 29, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    To me ‘Frontline’ implies that a person is involved in the thick of life. I do not care for bedside nurses being segmented out as frontliners. We all have our days of battle, victories won or battles lost. We have each been impacted nurses in the line of duty. Please, don’t place someone on the back-burner just because they have a different job description or profession than you do! (And yes, I was a bedside RN for 20 years. The next 20 were spent in upper management.)

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