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  • Writer's pictureLouvenia Ringuette BSN RN

Declare you are a Medical Professional??

As we welcome 2020, I am still dealing with healing from a car accident that occurred in 2019. Physically I am still healing from broken ribs, yes ribs (plural). I was blessed my head, face, teeth and limbs, except one finger- now healed, survived intact. Thank the lord. Anyone whom has ever had an automobile accident knows the accident itself is just the beginning of the assault.

Where to start… My accident resulted in a punctured lung, and 5 broken ribs. Several ribs were broken in two or more places resulting in what the medical field calls a “flail chest”. After the accident I was stabilized at the local hospital ER, a chest tube placed, and then was transferred by air to a teaching trauma hospital. I spent one day in ICU and six days on a patient floor.

This is I guess where the story begins, or is it? There are many angles to this story. Should I start with the question of whether a nurse who is hospitalized as patient should reveal they are in the medical field to the hospital staff? Or should the story be about how pain consumes you, medical professional or not. Or is it the story about the mass confusion over how will the household and medical bills get paid.

In fact just the crazy web of figuring out the medical bills after trauma is enough to cause great confusion.

Add in the worry that engulfs you as you think about who will care for your family, what about your job, and what will be the lasting effects this accident might have on your life. Like I said above the accident is really just the tip of an iceberg.

If anything good came from this accident it would have to be that I now have a much stronger and deeper understanding of a patients experience and need after an accident, serious illness or injury occurs. I hope to be able to apply what I have experienced to help others navigate thorough this crazy period. I know no two stories are the same, but having walked the walk I feel others will benefit from my knowledge, and experience. No just as a nurse but from a patient’s perspective too.

I think I will take a look at each issue over this next month in hopes to help others and to gain more understanding.

Issue one:

To reveal you are a medical professional worker or “not” when you are hospitalized. As a nurse I have seen both sides of the issue. I have been a patient as a nurse and I have cared for other workers as patients.

While I was a patient recently in the trauma hospital no one asked me what I did for a living. My medical team seemed genuinely interested in providing good care to me. On the second day on the regular medical floor, I reported that the area under my left scapular really hurt badly.

I had not even realized I had used the word “scapular”. The next day an intern at the teaching hospital was explaining chest tubes to me. The nurse was in the room while the intern was discussing chest tubes with me, and was listening closely. I told the intern I understood the need to keep the chest tube chamber below my chest but that was about what I knew about chest tubes. As soon as the intern left the room, the nurse asked me if I was a healthcare worker. I told him I was a nurse but was not practicing at the bedside right now. I asked how he knew I was a nurse. He said I used the word “scapula” yesterday and something about the discussion about chest tubes today had lead him to question me about me being in the medical field. He went on to say “I wouldn’t tell anyone I was a nurse either if I was in the hospital”. He left the room.

I thought to myself “I wasn’t keeping the fact I was a nurse from anyone why would I?” The pain I was in with every breath, or movement consumed me. I had not even considered at that time I was a nurse. To me I was a patient that needed the skills of the medical profession to get me through this. I saw that nurse one more time that shift several hours after he found out I was a nurse. He came gave me a scheduled medication and was out the door he went. There are a lot of stories and articles written on how medical professionals make terrible patients. Maybe after they feel well enough to be able to think straight but I was not even close to being there yet.

The next shift came on. The nurse stated, “ I hear you are a nurse.” After introductions, medications and a brief assessment were complete the nurse left the room only to re-enter to give me my medications a couple hours later. While administering medications she asked what my pain level was, and asked if I had used my incentive spirometer, a medical device you use to help your respiratory system, improve breathing, and to help prevent pneumonia. She said, “I am not going to watch you use it because you are a nurse you know how to use it”. At the time I thought little about her statement.

Now that I am home I think about that statement. Yes she was correct, I am a nurse and I have helped many a patient use an incentive spirometer. What she did not think about was that I was a nurse in excruciating pain, and that breathing with several broken ribs, and a chest tube was anything but comfortable. Was I using it correctly or as prescribed. Of course not, it hurt too much. Had I used it right and as ordered would I have had the chest tube out quicker? Guess we won’t know. This and many other scenarios like this continued throughout my hospitalization.

After hospital staff realized I was a nurse my care changed. The staff assumed I knew it all. When someone commented on the fact I was a nurse I quickly explained that trauma and acute care was not my specialty, and I tried not to watch or question his or her care. When someone would answer my question, or took the tie to educate me, I thanked them. Even if it was something I knew I told them that I’d been out of nursing school a long while so a refresher or reinforcement for my care was welcome. Being a nurse for over 30 years, and some of that as a nursing instructor I know you can accomplish care in several different ways safely so I don’t judge others unless of course it would have endangered someone’s life.

What I can tell you is that during most of my stay they could have done most anything to me and I would not have cared due to the pain, and stress. I had to and needed to be able to count on their experience and guidance.

Another example of how medical professionals still needs the staffs experience and skill. One night my chest tube tubing disconnected. I woke up to the sound of “Darth Vader” breathing next to me in bed. It took me a minute to wake up enough to realize the sound I was hearing was in time with my breathing, I finally recognized it was the sound of wet respirations and I checked the chest tube tubing as it left my chest wall. Yep the chest tube tubing had come apart. Nurses are trained to act quickly in an emergency. So my nurse brain thought “now what do I do? Do I plug the tube? No that will cause too much pressure to build up… All the sudden I remembered I was the patient and I pressed my call light.

The staff came in quickly when I told them my chest tube had disconnected. Thank god they did. With all the fear, pain, and the drowsiness of waking up at 4 a.m. to this unexpected problem. I was very disoriented, and had no clue how I was suppose to correct the problem. Thank the lord; the nurses, and the hospitalist rescued this overwhelmed stressed nurse patient.

I think if must have been the rapid response team that arrived in my room that night to provide the care. There were many of them, and everyone was trying to decide the best way to respond to the issue. For some reason just having the burden off my shoulders of trying to figure out how to respond made up for the fact that it seemed the staff did not have a plan. After several minutes the night nurse assigned to me took charge, and within minutes she had a temporary fix. A few minutes later the hospitalist came in and a permanent solution was had. In these moments I was a patient, not a nurse, as it should have been. I was not in the mindset to perform that level of thinking and problem solving. Great work, team!!

It is funny the different views people have about letting others know they, the patient, is a healthcare worker. I have cared for many medical professionals while they were ill. Some were very appreciative as I think I was. Others would actually question you on everything you did while stating firmly, “You know I am a nurse, (Doctor, etc.…)”. I am not sure they were trying to intimidate staff, or if it is fear of being out of control that was speaking.

Years ago while teaching nursing students I remember telling them that medically related issues are so expansive that no one can be an expert in it all. I explained that most nurses, and doctors specialize in an area so they can keep up with the most pertinent issues related to the type of care they practice. Remembering this will help you feel more comfortable when you care for medical professionals. All patients whether they are in the medical field or not deserve to be provided information regarding how this disease, illness, injury or treatment as it relates to them as a patient. Don’t skimp on proving on-going education, and good discharge teaching including follow-up care needed just because someone is in the medical field.

You don’t have to talk down to someone. One of the most respectful things said to me while I was in the hospital was from one of the night nurses. She came in to give me medication. She said to me “ I know you are a nurse but I’d like to explain how the Tylenol and Ibuprophen work together to help the pain. That way when you get home you can continue it, which will allow you to move around better at home and avoid complications. Is that ok”. The night nurses always treated me as a patient versus a nurse, yet allowing me to be a nurse if I chose. For example she knew I was a nurse but she gave me the basic information she would have provided any patient, then she allowed me the opportunity to ask for further in-depth information if I felt I wanted or needed it. I appreciated her mutual respect.

One easy way to end up in court defending your patient care is to assume the medical professional, or any patient knows all the information they need, and then send them home just to have complications occur due to their lack of knowledge. Protect your license and your patient’s health. Find out a patients understanding of the issue, fill in the gaps, and provide additional information as appropriate to their knowledge base and desire.

Remember when someone is ill or under extreme stress the patient may not be able to recall the information, or may be afraid to ask for help, especially if they feel like you think they should already have all the knowledge.

I would love to hear your thought on whether you would tell hospital staff you are a medical provider if you were hospitalized as a patient. Why or Why not. You can add comments of why or why no below in the comments. However, I would also love to hear your healthcare worker’s experience when you were a patient. You may email me your story at ringuetteclnc@gmail.com.

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