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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Coping By Pen

Published July 17, 2015 11:58 AM by Guest Blogger
Editor's Note: This guest post is written by Kathy Eliscu, BA, RN, who worked more than 30 years as a nurse in maternal/child health, office nursing, school nursing, and psychiatry at a major mental health clinic.

After 30-plus years in nursing, I've accumulated plenty of stories. You get it, if you've been in nursing for a while. Like for at least a week.

In the first decade, nursing experiences floated through my mind like sand pebbles dumped from shoes after an afternoon at the beach. I was aware of them, but didn't put them much into conscious thought, since my brain was already figuring out a grocery list for the way home and wondering if pizza and ice cream for the fourth night in a row was really such a bad thing. Wait. There were a few outstanding memories - some of us who have been nurses for a long time will recall - when being hollered at by a doctor was not uncommon, when working night shift meant cleaning up the floor after a delivery and checking on mom and baby in between swipes of the mop. And, of course, there are the tender recalls of the gift of truly being present with a patient, the basics of helping, which brought most of us into the profession in the first place.

There have been controversies around union issues, the transient, occasional lateral violence between nurses ... there are probably few experienced nurses today who don't have stories to tell.

Then came the big insurance changes - more restrictions on hospital stays, the advent of prior approvals for treatments and certain medications, often shifting the day-to-day focus of nurses. For me, time spent with patients was greatly reduced due to increased time on the phone with insurance companies and an increase in staff meetings largely focused on keeping up with regulations and the changing systems required to do that. At times, it all seemed so ridiculous. BECAUSE IT WAS.

It wasn't long before I began to imagine humorous scenarios beyond the agony. It was either that, or consume large quantities of chocolate at eight in the morning. Sitting through what once seemed largely patient-focused meetings now felt like board meetings, with graphs and charts and outcomes - yes, there were lots of numbers. Big numbers, small numbers, scary numbers. The way of corporate thinking had reached medicine in a big way. I'd look around the room: 20 or 30 professionals crammed into a classroom, eyes glazing over watching a powerpoint presentation filled with statistics. It made me want to run home to take a shower. Soon, I couldn't help myself from looking at nearly everything more critically, and thankfully, with laughter. For now, I was also dealing with my the middle years, complete with aging parents, a child still in college, my inability to say no when someone needed a favor ... and I began to imagine "what if" scenarios. I confess I may have missed a few of the important facts of some of the unending "initiatives" at these meetings. But using humor as a tool for coping with the boredom and get-me-outta-here thoughts each time actually gave me all the more smiles and charity for when I did - finally and blessedly - get to actually interact with a patient.

Not Even Dark Chocolate Can Fix This Mess is fiction. It's the wildly, silly story of a woman who nurses by day and crams her overwhelmed life into the rest. She gets roped into doing a good deed for her niece and in her constantly-overwhelmed state, ends up making a huge, embarrassing mistake. Even though she's tried all that deep breathing stuff. Friends, you will learn nothing from this novel. But it will give you some much-deserved laughs. You've earned it.

Now, pay attention to the powerpoint. And nod slowly up and down. It looks good.

posted by Guest Blogger


I have been a nurse for more than 35 years and was feeling depressed over the recent health changes. I think health care has become an assembly line with contradictory messages. We are told to get patients in and out as quickly as possible, but you are also supposed to take time to make a connection. How can I make a meaningful connection with my patients when I don't have time to sit because they are calling me for the next patient? I don't have time to go to the bathroom let alone sit with my patients. If I do take the time to sit with my patients and my work runs into over time, I am told I don't have good time management skills. Strange isn't it? I have to laugh to keep from crying. But wait. I DID cry yesterday.

Thank you for this post. This has been very cathartic. I think I will write more often.

Gwendolyn, RN August 9, 2015 2:37 PM
New York NY

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