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“Sexy” Nurse Costumes Harm Nurses

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.

Ebola nurse.

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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:

sexynursedoctor

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.

 

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How a Bad Nurse Inspired Me

When I was 23, my grandmother was dying of lung cancer.

My Grandma H was one of the strongest women I ever knew. She ran her own business, was an active church member and helped found my home church in Missouri.

But she smoked. She and my grandfather smoked for decades. Everyone did.

Then my grandfather got cancer and she quit cold turkey. She still got cancer.

This woman also got Type 2 diabetes and changed her diet overnight.

My grandmother wasn’t perfect. She had a temper, she was set in her ways, and she was, at least, at one point, a racist. She kept her racism well hidden, and I only ever heard a racist comment from her shortly before her death when she was having a lot of problems. I don’t want to think of my grandmother as a racist, but I know it was there at some point. Still, she welcomed her black customers and was well thought of by the black community in my hometown, as I learned after her death. I’ll never know her true stance because my grandmother never taught me to be a racist. She kept her opinions to herself.

I was visiting my grandmother and she was in the hospital. She was dying of lung cancer and COPD. I was staying at my Grandma C’s house. It was quickly obvious that my grandma was dying, and I needed to be there as much as I could. My job at Charles Schwab refused to let me take time off, but I was fortunate to have a standing job offer from a previous employer. So I quit. I’ll never invest with Schwab. They claimed to be a family friendly company and refused me time off with the woman who practically raised me.

At this time I was also trying to decide which college to attend, and what to major in. I wanted a guaranteed job, I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted a living wage. I loved science, and was toying with the idea of being a nurse. I was currently working in customer service and tech support and hated it.

I was at my Grandma C’s house, in my pajamas, and got a call from the hospital. My grandmother was actively dying. I raced to the hospital to find my grandmother pale, her fingers blue, and barely coherent. No one was in the room with her. She begged me for help. I quickly tried to call for help and was told by the nurse “She’s dying.” My grandmother was in agony. I’d only seen her close to that once before, when she’d forgotten to turn her oxygen on. She was not being medicated for her shortness of breath or anxiety. She was literally sitting in a chair, gasping to stay alive. Yes, she was a DNR. This was my first lesson that some medical professionals consider that to be an order not to treat the patient.

In tech support, one of the first questions we always asked was “is it plugged in?” My grandmother’s oxygen was not plugged into the wall.

I called the nurse’s station again, desperate. No one came. I walked out to the nurse’s station to find the nurses sitting down and talking. I quickly asked for help to plug my grandmother’s oxygen back in.

A nurse marched down the hall with me, plugged the oxygen in the wall and said:

“You could have done this YOURSELF.”

Within minutes, my grandmother had her color back. She had her breath back, and she was thinking more clearly, although she never regained her sharpness of wit or memory after that moment.

As I sat there, holding her hand, feeling her desperately rubbing her thumb over mine, which she did to comfort me, but also to comfort her, I thought of that nurse, and I thought: “If that moron can do it, I can do it.”

I filed a complaint with the hospital and received an apology. I was reminded very shortly that my grandmother was dying. I didn’t really think of suing the hospital because I knew she was dying and I had already had a horrible experience with a false medical lawsuit filed by my mother. Litigation was the last thing on my mind. If that had happened today, I would raised hell. But back then, I was 23. I had no idea of a patient’s rights. I was alone in the hospital.

Nursing school was brutal. I worked full time through the entire thing, sometimes just sleeping 2-3 hours a day between classes and on breaks at work. I haven’t gotten to work in pediatrics. I work in surgery.

Every time I go into a patient’s room, from my first day as a tech and until the day I leave nursing, I check the patient’s color, respiration, effort, and whether or not their oxygen is plugged in. If they are on a tank, I bend over and check, every time. I’ve found other nurse’s patients with their oxygen off, cyanotic (blue), and averted a code. I monitor my medicated patients closely.

I’m not a perfect nurse. I screw up. I lack patience at times. I have compassion fatigue and I’m burned out from working a hard, physical job while coping with chronic illness and pain.

But when I had a dying patient, the other nurses covered my patients completely so I could stay with her. I held her hand and turned her toward the mountains, so that if she could see, the last thing she would see was beauty. When I talked to her son who was rushing to her side, I was able to truthfully tell him his mother did not die alone.

I have never told a family member to do anything by themselves. I will never treat a family member like they should have medical training. If my patient is in distress, I am in the room.

That nurse is probably still working. I never got her name. Her inaction made me a better nurse. I will never, ever, let myself become so fatigued, so burned out that I knowingly let a patient suffer while I sit at the station, talking. It’s just not the kind of nurse I’m ever going to be.

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