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What Doctors Can Learn From Nurses

TON - MARCH 2012 VOL 5, NO 2 published on April 10, 2012
MMA

“Are you crazy, yet?”

I heard a voice floating through the early morning air. I stirred out of my sleep, turned my head to the source of the voice, and mumbled, “Not any more than usual.” After a moment, though, as I tried to focus despite the tumor sitting on my optic nerve, which left my vision blurred, I realized the question came from the doctor assigned to see me during my inhospital chemotherapy sessions. I knew that if I did not snap into reality quickly despite the fact that it was only 7:30 AM and I had been kept up most of the night with nausea, he would simply ask me if everything was alright and literally sprint out my door. So, remembering through the blur that I had important questions I needed answered (What did it mean that I had a high platelet count? When would I know if this round of chemotherapy worked? What alternatives existed if it did not?), I fuddled around until I found the button on my electronic bed, pushed it, and waited until the small, humming motor slowly raised my head so I could carry on a decent conversation.

“Oh, good morning, Dr F,” I said.

“Why would I be crazy?”

“The steroids we are giving you will make you crazy!” he stated forcefully. 

Dr F represents an entire cadre of doctors who could learn from the nurses who surround them how to approach a real, live patient. Certainly, I understand the hierarchy in the hospital. I understand that many demands seemingly much more important than visiting me, or any other patient, clutter the days of doctors. I understand what a nurse explained to me: the doctors give the orders and the nurses carry them out; the doctor comes up with the treatment plan, the nurse applies it and comforts the patient through it; the doctor does a round on the floor at given intervals, while the nurse actually works on the floor, spending his/her days with patients. However, in my mind, none of that gives the doctor a right to be curt, sarcastic, and disorienting in his/her interaction with me!

So how would I suggest to Dr F that he enter a patient’s room, even if it is 7:30 in the morning, and the patient has gotten literally no sleep after a difficult night? The same way the nurses did all during the night!

“Hi, Ms M,” she (in this case) would gently say to me as I drifted in and out of sleep interrupted by nausea, exhaustion, blurry vision, and confusion. “I am just here to see if you need more medicine…” or “I am just here to let you know that someone is around…” or “I am just here to answer any questions you may have…” or “I am just here to check up on you…” or “I am just here.…” 

Yes, Dr F, use my name! Talk to me in a calm voice (you already know I am somewhat disoriented because of the time of day and the characteristics of my illness). Tell me what you want from me or have to offer me. Do not be sarcastic. Do not speak loudly when you see me lying with my eyes closed. Do not ask me disorienting questions. In short, Dr F, act like a nurse around me! It would do both of us a world of good in your job as a doctor!

MMA is undergoing treatment for cancer. She wishes to use her initials.

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Last modified: September 9, 2019