A 40-Year Red Cross Volunteer’s Ongoing Quest to Learn More

Sue Hassmiller, on left, as American Red Cross volunteer following 2011 Alabama tornado strikes.

By Susan B. Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) senior advisor for nursing, and director, Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, American Red Cross volunteer national ambassador. (Second post of ongoing Clara Barton Study Tour series.)

The ‘Red Cross lady’ on the phone.

Earthquake hits Mexico City! said the news flash on my television screen 40 years ago as I sat in my childhood home. I was a college student, house-sitting for my parents, who were in Mexico City for a long-deserved vacation.

I had no idea what to do. There were no cell phones in those days, no Internet. I hurried to the yellow rotary phone on the wall at the end of the kitchen cabinets and dialed 0 for the operator. I implored her help. She said she couldn’t help me, but would connect me to an organization that could. It was the American Red Cross. […]

September 23rd, 2016|Clara Barton 2016, Public health|1 Comment

Following in the Footsteps of Clara Barton

clara-barton-photographed-by-matthew-bradyAt Antietam: From government clerk to “Angel of the Battlefield”

This Saturday marks the 154th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Antietam—what has been called “the single bloodiest day in American military history.” Confederate army and Union troops faced off in Sharpsburg, Maryland. They fought for almost two days and when the battle ended, there were over 22,000 casualties among both sides. In the middle of it all, Clara Barton, a former teacher and government clerk, drove wagons of supplies around battle lines and tended to wounded soldiers.

Antietam marked the beginning of the legacy of Clara Barton, who on that day earned the title “Angel of the Battlefield.” Today, a monument to her stands at one end of the battlefield.

Bringing the Red Cross to America

arc-logoWhen the war ended, Barton continued to work for the soldiers, founding the Bureau of Records of Missing Men of the Armies of the United States to identify the millions of missing and dead soldiers. After a visit to Geneva with the International Red Cross in 1880, she returned and established the American Red Cross and became its president until 1904. […]

September 16th, 2016|Clara Barton 2016, Nursing|0 Comments

Adapting to the Emotional Toll of Nursing

take2refectionsillustrationsept2016New nurses may find themselves confronted with great human suffering, enormous technical challenges, and the norms and pressures of the nursing profession and the individual workplace.

Most eventually learn the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the profession. But some may struggle more than others with the emotional intensity of the work. A question that seems to come up a lot when nurses write about their work goes something like this: How do you keep caring as a nurse and not get burned out? How do you develop a resilient professional persona?

This month’s Reflections essay, How I Built a Suit of Armor (and Stayed Human),” by Jonathan Peter Robb, enumerates the challenges faced by a sensitive new nurse and the ways he found to protect himself over time. Here Robb, a district nurse for the National Health Service in London, England, describes one kind of challenge he faced:

The weight of being responsible for a person’s health wasn’t one I had prepared for. Sitting in lectures doesn’t train you for the moment when you’re standing at the end of a bed looking at a patient who is struggling to breathe, semiconscious (but who just last week was sitting up and talking), and thinking: Did I miss something? Is this my fault?

As Robb writes, “caring hurts.” Gradually he found himself building defenses that helped him to continue doing the work. Robb calls the development of these defenses “building a suit of armor,” one he can take off when he goes home to his family—but as he describes the process, it seems clear that he’s never allowed himself to slide into callousness about his patients.  […]

September 14th, 2016|Nursing, nursing perspective, Patients|0 Comments

All Unhappy Patients Are Not Alike

illustration by the author illustration by the author

The first sentence from Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina is one of the most famous in literature:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

It can easily be applied to patients. Happy patients tend to love their doctors, feel they received the best possible care, and consider their nurses invaluable.

Unhappy patients are unhappy in their own way. The challenge for busy nurses is resisting the temptation to turn a deaf ear or feign listening, in effect reducing patients’ concerns to “waa, waa, waa.”

A common thread among unhappy patients is unmet expectations.

Sometimes the patient’s expectations are unrealistic because they’re based on incorrect assumptions—but they do not know this. Responding requires a willingness to listen and the patience to tease out why a patient is unhappy with their care. Let patients tell their stories. Most bedside nurses have limited time; it’s okay to enlist help from a case manager, social worker, or nurse navigator if necessary. However, investing time up front to improve communication with a patient may pay off in dividends by smoothing the rest of your shift.

Begin by listening. Sometimes, I’ll take a seat, and write what the patient says while they talk. This simple act conveys their complaint is taken seriously, and helps defuse the situation. Having an open mind while a patient explains why they are unhappy with their care has taught me a lot and improved my communication skills. […]

Information for Nurses Who Help in Disasters

Nurses are often at the front lines of disaster response. How prepared are nurses—and the hospitals and other facilities where they may work?

Louisiana National Guard at Baton Rouge River Center, Aug 15, 2016, after major flooding pushed residents from homes. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Garrett L. Dipuma/RELEASED) Louisiana National Guard, Baton Rouge River Center, Aug 15, 2016, after flooding pushed residents from homes. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Garrett L. Dipuma/RELEASED)

The television news reports have recently been full of the devastating flooding in Louisiana. Especially heart-wrenching are the images of people, especially frail older adults, who are rescued with only a few meager possessions. They look shaken and frightened and too many say they’ve lost everything, the possessions of their lifetimes.

Many people will recover, with the help of friends and families, but some who are alone or isolated (or who just don’t deal well because of a variety of reasons) may experience undue stress. Sometimes, that stress can be overwhelming—and damaging to health.

We know—and applaud—all those nurses who volunteer with the American Red Cross and other relief agencies. Readers seeking to help survivors of disasters might find helpful information in our Responding to Disasters collection of articles. Especially useful might be the following:

“The Impact of Event Scale–Revised describes the use of a short questionnaire to assess a person’s response to a traumatic event. We published this in 2008, as part of our How to Try This Series, in partnership with the New York University College of Nursing’s Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing.

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August 22nd, 2016|Nursing, Public health|0 Comments