Archive May 2017 XVIII, No. 5

Behind Closed Doors: Who Are We to Judge Our Patients?

You'll never know the depth of their scars, so try a little tenderness.

Paula Watkins

Paula Watkins

BIO

nurses talking

We judge our patients. You do and so do I. The very people we are supposed to take care of and keep safe, we size them up and tear them down. I do it several times every 12-hour shift.

Like the combative woman with a badly broken leg who came into pre-op a couple nights ago. Right away I had her pegged as a drug-abusing victim of spousal abuse. Anyone could see she was having a bad time without her recreational drugs and her mental health meds. I bet a buck that the way her leg was fractured was not from a simple slip and fall, as she'd claimed. The woman grew so incensed when her husband showed up in the pre-op bay that we had to ask him to leave. Surprise, surprise: a marriage on the rocks, too.

See what I just did? Rightly or wrongly, I'd painted my patient in a most unfavorable light based on a few hasty impressions.

We transported her to the OR and induced her as quickly as possible. Right before induction, the circulator lightly touched her arm and began to stroke it softly while speaking comforting words. The patient started crying. She looked up at the circulator and said, "I'm not used to someone touching me nicely." With that, the mask came down, off she went off to sleep, and off I went to holding, where my next patient was brought in straight from the ER for a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.

Where's his leg? What's that smell?
Sitting up on the stretcher in just a hospital gown was a white-haired man in his late 60s with a long unkempt beard. His face held deep wrinkles and his eyes were sunken in and bloodshot. I could see only one leg stretched out on the stretcher, so I assumed he had an above-the-knee amputation. I stood there while the surgeon spoke with him about the surgical plan and gave him the consent to sign. The man became alarmed.

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