The Best Nurses Day Gift: Enough Time With Patients

What's Left Behind, oil, graphite, and mixed media on wood panel. 18" by 18." Copyright J. Paradisi.

What’s Left Behind, oil, graphite, and mixed media on wood panel. 18″ by 18.” Copyright J. Paradisi.

Julianna Paradisi, RN, OCN, writes a monthly post for this blog and works as an infusion nurse in outpatient oncology.

I can’t remember which handle on Twitter asked nurses last week for their stories about the best or worst Nurses Day gifts from their employers, so I will tell mine here. It began badly, but became the best.

Nurses Day in May is a cute little rhyme. In Oregon, where I live, May also brings hay fever allergy, which is neither cute nor rhymes, but like Nurses Day, is an annual event.

I woke up on the morning of Nurses Day with a headache and my voice hoarse from allergy. Previously, I had traded shifts to work this day in place of another nurse with an acutely hospitalized family member. If she and I were playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, her need was scissors to my paper.

Calling in sick was not an option. It’s part of the unwritten Nurse’s Code, which is really more of a guideline, but don’t test it. Calling in sick after agreeing to work for a coworker will not garner sympathy from your unit.

When I arrived for work, another nurse remarked that my hoarse voice sounded sexy, like actress Kathleen Turner’s. Despite my crankiness from inadequate respiratory gas exchange, that cheered me up, a little.

Then The Miracle occurred:

The hospital’s phone system, including our outpatient unit’s, went down. No phone calls came in or out, not even between departments. Overhead via the PA system, the hospital operator announced over and over instructions for summoning the rapid response or code teams, if needed. Non-emergent communications were sent by e-mail, or pneumatic tube system.

It took a little while to understand that, for our outpatient clinic, what felt like calamity was in fact a surprising gift: our scheduled appointments were all that we had that shift. Offices could not call to schedule new appointments that morning. The phones at the nurse’s desk were silent.

This created a leisurely pace for our shift, which I put to work at my patients’ bedside. My allergy symptoms reminded me how it feels to be sick, replacing crankiness with compassion. For each patient I pulled up the rolly stool and sat down, listening to their stories and concerns without time pressure or ringing phones. I had time to look up information, print handouts, and answer their questions the way I was taught to do in nursing school. In short, because the phones were down, I spent Nurses Day, well, nursing. I felt fully engaged in the work, and remembered why I chose this noble profession.

By noon, the phones were back up. My headache and hoarse voice were gone. I realized I was having a great day.

Later, while I was fetching a cup of water from the water cooler for a patient to swallow pre-meds, our manger stopped by. “Hey you, how’s your Nurses Day?” he asked, affably.

“Great!” I replied. “The phones were down the first half of the shift.”

Not missing a beat with his quick wit, he winked and said, “Oh yeah. I arranged that as a gift. Have a Happy Nurses Day.”

And I did.

Disclaimer:  No patients were harmed in the making of this post.

About the Author:

JParadisi RN, OCN, finds inspiration where science, humanity and art converge, creating compelling images as both a writer and a painter. She is the author of JParadisiRN, and blogs frequently for TheONC.org, and Off the Charts, the blog of the American Journal of Nursing.

2 Comments

  1. Becky Lehr, LPN May 29, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    What a wonderful gift – being able to do what we trained to do. 🙂

  2. Peggy McDaniel May 22, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Love it! Your manager sounds like one of my past favs. Isn’t it sweet when you have time to “nurse?” I always loved those slower days although few and far between.

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