By Amy M. Collins, AJN managing editor
Three months ago, I gave birth to my first child under somewhat traumatic circumstances. After a fast and furious labor onset, I was all set to be given an epidural when I was informed the baby’s heart rate had dropped dramatically and I needed to have an emergency C-section. Thankfully, everything turned out okay, and my son was born healthy.
Nurses changed shifts every 12 hours during my four-day hospital stay, and each of them provided excellent care. They spent massive amounts of time with me, helping me to get up and walk around, showing me how to expertly swaddle my baby like a burrito, and even helping me get the hang of feeding my child.
On my last day, two nurses were assigned to get me ready for my discharge. They had tons of printed information for me on postnatal care, wound care, postpartum depression, etc. I was told by one of the nurses that we were going to now have a “mother–child huddle.” She then said to the other nurse, with what I took to be a little irony in her tone, “Are you ready for the mother–child huddle?” Curious, I asked why the emphasis on the word.
“I just think the word ‘huddle’ is silly,” she said, adopting a mock football pose. I thought about this for a moment. Sometimes at work we also use the term instead of “meeting,” and I had to admit that it often gave me football visuals or made me picture my team in a circle with our arms around each other’s shoulders. I told her this—and added that I worked at AJN and thought the topic of word choice in this particular nursing context might be of interest to our readers.
They joked that they’d like to be interviewed and featured in the journal, but then they spoke more seriously about their ambivalence in using this term.
“Huddle doesn’t mean anything in this context,” one nurse said. “What does it actually mean to the patient? We use it because we’re told to by the hospital.” She mentioned patient satisfaction surveys and I wondered to myself if the hospital might provide nurses with various scripts or terminology in order to plant specific words and concepts into patients’ heads for when it came time to fill out these surveys.
But I didn’t press them on this, as I thought they might not want to speak negatively about hospital policies. Plus, being an editor, I was more interested in the language aspect of the issue. (Perhaps I should have been asking instead what on earth I was going to do with my newborn son once I got home…and maybe all this was a way of distracting myself from that terrifying prospect!)
“What would you prefer to call it?” I asked.
The second nurse said, “Patient care plan or plan of care. That’s what we’re doing here—going over your care and that of your baby for when you go home.”
And with this, we got back to the care plan and the laundry list of things I had to remember to do or not do (put the baby to sleep on his back, avoid shopping malls and germfests, don’t bathe the baby until the cord falls off…). It was, in fact, a plan, and so their thinking about the term made sense to me. A huddle seemed like some kind of chummy, casual chat, whereas a plan was something I needed to follow to ensure I healed well and my baby thrived.
It’s possible that some people really do like to take part in a ‘huddle’ because it makes them feel like they are an equal part of their own health care team, and could make them feel empowered instead of terrified at the prospect of taking a new baby home. But what about patients who might not speak English and don’t even know what the term means? What about those who aren’t team players? Was I the only mother on the floor thinking about this?
In my defense, words are part of my job. But whatever we called my discharge conversation that day, those nurses did a good job, and I was happy to have the information on more than one occasion when new mother panic set in at home.