It’s Halloween, the time when people seem to lose their respect for others and find the most offensive costumes ever. It’s this time of year when my Facebook feed, Twitter TL and email fill with ads people think I should see.
Here we go.
While another photo circling the internet was photoshopped, the above photo was not.
Let’s remember that hundreds of nurses have died from treating Ebola patients in West Africa. Not because they are lazy or sloppy but because the number of patients and lack of protective gear means nurses have a very high chance of disease. Recently, several nurses died of Ebola after caring for a newborn who had the disease. Their choice was to pick up the baby and care for it or leave it in a box to die.
It’s a long shot, but I believe the “Ebola nurse” costume may be the most offensive Sexy Nurse costume of them all. Already I know some person with very poor judgement and a large amount of racism is going to combine a sexy nurse costume with Blackface and call themselves Amber Vinson. That will be the most offensive I have ever seen. If you see it, don’t tell me about it. I don’t want to know.
(Anyone who puts on Blackface, Yellowface, Redface for costumes is out of line. It’s racist and harmful. Period. Don’t do it. Google “should I wear Blackface” and see what you find out)
I am THRILLED that Amber Vinson, RN and Nina Pham, RN have been cured of Ebola. I am THRILLED. They contracted Ebola in the service of their patient and they deserved the best care the US had to offer and I am so glad they got it. I am also glad that there have been no further cases (as of now) out of Texas.
But what the hell are you doing dressing up in a sexy “Ebola nurse” costume when there are nurses in West Africa probably dying of Ebola right now?
About 2 months ago, I received an email from the CDC, asking for volunteers to train and go to West Africa for 4 week periods of time. I did not answer it. I spent most of the Spring season ill with pneumonia and pericarditis. I am not in the kind of shape to go to West Africa and work 24 hour shifts caring for Ebola patients.
But other people did. Right now, Kaci Hickcox, RN, is sitting in a tent in New Jersey, in paper scrubs. New York and New Jersey say this is their plan for healthcare workers who return from treating Ebola patients in West Africa. Humiliating treatment for a person who has spent a month caring for the very sickest of patients, who watched a child die of Ebola her last night in West Africa. This is a person who has risked her life. She deserves better than this.
Sexy nurse costumes are not funny. Don’t wear a sexy nurse costume. They’re disgusting. If you want to be a nurse for Halloween, wear real scrubs. Being a nurse is an honorable profession. and not worthy of being mocked or sexualized.
In the blog post that made my life miserable, “The Effects of Nursing on Nurses,” I talked about the heavy mental and emotional toll nursing can place on a person. That was a post made after three incredibly busy night shifts when I was tired and dismayed at seeing a nurse I admire burst into tears. I’ve had some pressure to take the post down, but I’m going to let it stand because it still gets about 50 views a day. If any of those views are a nurse looking for someone who feels the same way, the post should stand.
Sexy nurse costumes add to the burden nurses already bear.
Nurses are highly trained professionals who put themselves at risk for you and your families over and over again. In my career, I have been groped, hit in the abdomen, smacked in the face, and smacked on my behind. I’ve had a physician slide his hand up my thigh. I’ve been called a bitch and a cunt, by PHYSICIANS. In addition to these physical assaults myself and nurses everywhere are frequently subjected to harassing comments, jokes, and behavior. This IS workplace sexual harassment, and somewhere right now, another nurse is dealing with it. Nurses are expected to laugh off harassing behavior and very few patients ever experience repercussions.
Nurses who are attacked by patients or even physicians rarely are able to seek justice for themselves. I do not know of any cases where a patient has been successfully prosecuted for sexual harassment of a nurses. This is similar to the behavior experienced by waitstaff. Additional cases of nurses who have tried to take on physicians can be found in Suzanne Gordon’s Nursing Against the Odds. I also Tweeted extensively about laws in Texas that do not allow for anonymous complaints against physicians and hospitals. For more information, you can check the #WinklerRNs hashtag, which stands as a reminder to what happens to nurses who whistleblow in Texas.
And last, I’m going to talk about costumes for doctors and costumes for nurses. See below:
Here is another advertisement, this time showing 9 nurse costumes and one doctor costume. Notice the difference? The doctor costume is not hyper-sexualized, it’s respectable. This advertisement is a symbol of how nurses are perceived by the public. When you wear a costume like this, you degrade nurses. If you look back in your life, or talk to your parents, you know nurses. You know someone who works long hours, through the night, and you probably have a story of how a nurse saved someone’s life.
I was wearing a blue plaid shirt and jeans the day I stopped on I-25 near the Colorado/New Mexico border to aid a man who had hit the side of a mountain. He had been flung from his vehicle. As I ran from the South side of the interstate to the North, I saw at least 20 people standing around him. I asked for help, and no one responded.
I quickly assessed the man and noted he had multiple broken ribs, resulting in a flail chest, which compromises breathing. He had a head wound, compound fracture of the leg, and an arterial bleed from his arm. Someone had thrown a towel over him.
I knelt over this man, clamped the towel around the artery, put pressure on his ribcage with my knees and secured his airway. Immediately, he drew in a breath, his color returned and he began to struggle. Still, none of the bystanders would come to my assistance. I was stuck. I was using every piece of my body and strength to hold this man still.
After what seemed like an eternity, the paramedics arrived, listened to my report and took my place. I got back to the car and cleaned up with the bleach wipes I keep there.
Do I deserve to have my image and profession mocked?
That’s what a nurse looks like. Someone risking their life for yours. Don’t degrade us. Don’t mock us with hyper-sexualized costumes. Respect nurses. As someone said on my Twitter timeline last night, “we are here to save your ass, not fuck it.”
Edit: Prior to writing this post, I had not seen any “sexy male nurse” costumes, so I did not include them. I was wrong.
Note: I have intentionally not linked to NBC’s post about Nina Pham, RN’s nursing experience. Critical care nurses must meet exacting requirements prior to receiving critical care certification. Critical Care certified nurses have already put in the time. Please reference this FAQ from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses
Anyone making comments about the nurse who contracted Ebola and her competence or her thoroughness needs to read this article. If you are a nurse or physician or other healthcare provider who does not work in a biohazard containment facility, you need to rethink. Remember: people who are experts with this clothing get Ebola. Are we surprised that people who are not experts could contract it? The issue is training and skill level. We should not be surprised that people who have never been around Ebola are not experts at containing or contracting Ebola.
(update added at end of post)
I’ve known for years (and I think a lot of people have) that Ebola would get to the U.S, but I still haven’t been afraid of it because you remain more at risk of being shot by a police officer or security guard even if unarmed in the United State than of catching Ebola. Even as a nurse. You are at higher risk to die of diabetes, the flu, or by a drunk driver than you are from Ebola. You have this risk simply because you live in the United States.
But what I DO know… due to my burn scar, I can’t wear a traditional TB mask. I have to wear a PAPR hood. However, I’ve never worn one. I don’t even know how they work. Still, if I had a TB patient, I’d be expected to learn how to care for the hood as well as the patient. I’ve never worn one. That’s…. not comforting. (In addition, workers at Texas Presbyterian were not given Hazmat suits until a positive Ebola test was received).
I think it’s time hospitals, nursing, and medical schools started adding biohazard PPE training to their regimens. I think the United States should fund this. I think they can do it by reversing the decision to slash the Hospital Preparedness Program from $515 million to $255 milllion in 2014 and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program from $900 million in 2005 to $610 million this year. (Links found from “Ebola Highlights Public Health Crisis“)
The United States has thousands of hospitals, all staffed by medical professionals who have dedicated years of their lives to careful education and preparedness for the care of any individual who may be hurt or ill. Is it too much to ask that the United States not ask for actual years off of our lives?
After initially posting this, I came across this article from Oregon Live that states, according to records obtained by the AP, Texas Presbyterian did not place it’s staff into Hazmat suits until Duncan’s Ebola test was positive.
Patient from Liberia: Check
With explosive diarrhea: Check
High fever: Check
Hazmat suits? Let’s wait for blood results.
I really hope that article is wrong, but I don’t think it will be.