No Bones About It
Editor's Note: This guest post is written by Christine W. Clarke, RN, MS, ONC, educator, Houston Methodist Orthopaedics
When I reflect on the elements which persuaded my decision to become a nurse, I cannot ignore hereditary influence. Between my maternal grandfather's aunt serving with Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War and three of my aunts graduating as diploma nurses after WW II, I would say my genes are pretty entrenched in a passion for nursing!
My first job during college was working as a weekend secretary on an orthopaedic ward at a major medical center hospital in the northeast. It was then that I grew to admire the spirit of the "floor" nurse who wore a starched white uniform, nurse's cap, white stockings, white shoes, and a navy blue cape clasped at the neck worn during cold, snowy weather. I was in awe of how that uniform stayed a pristine white after an eight hour shift! Those nurses worked diligently to nurse adult patients with complicated musculoskeletal conditions. I loved to sit at the bedside with some of the long-term patients to listen to their stories. The head nurse wore many hats. She was the medication nurse who poured meds in the nurse's station from a locked wooden cabinet. She was acutely aware of each patient's condition and was prepared to give a succinct report to every attending MD at 0800. She also oversaw the role of the RN as they performed the patient assessment, dressing changes, and prepared the patient for surgery. The LVN answered to the RN, and there were no patient care assistants. The LVN took vitals, measured I&O's, turned scoliosis patients on Foster frames, monitored patients in restraints, and was expected to bathe every patient, while still having time to autoclave metal bedpans before the end of their eight hour shift. The nurse did it all and I was so excited to be a small part of their team!
Although I was told, "You should have been a nurse" many times during my life, I don't think I seriously considered going into the nursing profession until I experienced a life-changing event which happened to me as a patient at Houston Methodist Hospital. As an adolescent, I developed a chronic hip condition which leads to significant arthritic pain and immobility. The predictable treatment was total hip replacement. I was encouraged to wait as long as possible to receive the most reliable implant which would improve my quality of life, a life without chronic arthritic pain. A nurse from our church recommended a well-known, highly respected orthopaedic surgeon at Methodist. At 40 years old, I underwent hip replacement surgery. I remember waking up in a private room, surrounded by my family; and best of all, I was free from hip pain!
My nurses were experienced orthopaedic nurses who exhibited a kind, and caring passion in the art of nursing. I trusted them with my life. Because of my positive experience from an inpatient perception, I felt a strong urge toward following the Golden Rule, that is, to "give back." Could I be a nurse? My hip was fixed, but I was unsure I could endure the physical demands required of a nurse. My final nudge was from my husband who said, "There is nothing wrong with your brain - go back to school and become a nurse." That gentle push was what I needed to fulfill my need to give back to those who changed my life.
I have since graduated with my Master's degree and have shared my personal story thru pre-operative teaching to hundreds of elective joint replacement patients which have included nurses, pharmacists, physicians, and high-profile individuals.
As I approach the age of retirement along with many of my nurse colleagues, I urge graduate nurses to consider entering the specialty of orthopaedics. There is no question that nursing is a stressful profession. The orthopaedic patient population envelopes many more co morbidities which go hand in hand with chronic and acute musculoskeletal disorders. Arthritis may be accompanied by the challenge of immobility and obesity, drug or alcohol dependency, depression, hypertension, and/or diabetes. Mobilizing ortho patients may be physically exhausting; but the rewards of watching a patient walk straight and tall, with minimal pain, just a day after surgery, allows one to quickly forget how physically demanding ortho nursing can be. I can only hope that sharing my experience has made a difference!