As my previous posts illustrate, finding smart and personable doctors is of the utmost importance, but anyone who’s been around the hospital block will tell you that nurses make the biggest impact on a patient’s minute to minute comfort. Moreover, usually a nurse’s manner rather than technical skills make or break the experience. A series of gaffs during Viv’s January admission (for an endoscopy, head MRI, flex sigmoidoscopy, and ph probe study) prompted me to share a few tales of nursing social incompetence.
I would estimate that eighty-five percent of the nurses assigned to Viv in the hospital fit the following profile: female, 25 years of age or younger, slim or athletic in build, with at least one facial piercing. For the most part, these hipster-looking young ladies demonstrate the utmost professionalism. An exception: at about 5 a.m. on a frosty winter morning, I informed the bouncy, “Marilyn Monroe” pierced, pigtail-wearing brunette assigned to Viv’s care that a vent in the ceiling seemed to be blowing frigid air on my febrile six month old. She replied, “Bummer.”
A nursing student training in our GI doctor’s office also ran afoul of my conception of proper assistance. After I cooed to Viv, “Mommy loves her little stinker,” the nursing student proceeded to call Viv “stinker” for the rest of the appointment; that is, until the physician overheard and shot her a glare. I assumed the girl failed to understand the concept of familiarity as an authorizing force. Ian posited that she might have thought that Viv’s birth certificate reads “Stinker.” I’m not sure what would be worse.
That is not to say that the older, more voluptuous nurses fare any better. In fact two of the handful that fit the nurse stereotype committed worse offenses by my personal rule book. In a variation on the familiarity theme, when we checked in for her latest procedure a nurse came up and introduced herself to Viv as “Grandma.” Referring to herself in the third person again, she asked Viv, “Can Grandma pick you up?” I recognized her use of the age-old technique of speaking to me through the baby (E and I developed a policy for this issue: if you offer a positive comment like “Isn’t Daddy handsome?” let it fly; if it’s more akin to “Why hasn’t Daddy emptied your diaper bin yet, Mommy asked him three times?” you have not been cleared for take off), but I resolutely refused to acknowledge and tacitly condone her use of the moniker. After receiving no response from me on a third try, she picked Viv up, snuggled her, and said, “Grandma loves you.” It would have been a touching scene but for the facts that (1) she’d just met the child sixty seconds prior, and (2) she’s not Viv’s f-ing grandmother!
This next vignette requires explanation of a pediatric care custom. Rather than trying to learn parents’ names, the doctors, nurses, NAs, etc. refer to the mother as “Mom” and father as “Dad.” We found it disconcerting at first but accept the practice as undoubtedly justified by efficiency. At Viv’s very first procedure (the poop shoot scope), she received gas rather than general anesthesia and was totally frantic and angry when we were finally allowed to see her. She writhed around on the bed, kicking her legs and flapping her arms. The nurse first annoyed us when she called Viv “so pretty, so nice and skinny.” E and I share a pet peeve, bristling whenever anyone suggests that it’s a good thing that our sick infant is grossly underweight. Hello, she’s a baby not a runway model (also a class of individuals generally failing to thrive in my opinion). Not off to a good start, the nurse continued, “Maybe if we all kicked our legs like that all day we’d all be skinny. Well, Dad, you’re thin. Mom, you’ll get there.” Excuse me?!?!
Each of these slip-ups can be explained by over-zealousness in trying to make either Viv or us smile. Although not in the manner they expected, mission accomplished.