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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.

ebolanurse2

 

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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Why We Shouldn’t Be Surprised a Nurse Contracted Ebola in the U.S.

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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?

 

Edit:

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.

 

So:

 

Patient from Liberia: Check

With explosive diarrhea: Check

Vomiting: 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.

Update on – The Effects of Nursing on Nurses

I’m going to address a few things I read repeatedly in the comments of my original post:

What about the CNAs/PCTs/Aids/etc? I was a tech prior to becoming an RN, while I went through nursing school. I personally know how exhausting and backbreaking the job of a tech can be. But this post wasn’t about CNAs, it was specifically about nurses. CNAs do not have the same responsibilities nurses carry, although we share many of the same tasks. The RN is ultimately responsible for the task to be completed, and will be held responsible if it is not.  I do recommend CNAs take time to practice self care and realize when they are overly stressed, or if a patient is being abusive . I have personally seen patients abuse a CNA who would not abuse a nurse. CNAs are not mindless automatons, they are living, breathing people with a lot of their own responsibilities, and deserve to be treated with respect by nurses, doctors, and patients. Ultimately, my blog post was about nursing, and because I was not dealing with a  CNA at the time, CNAs were not mentioned in my post.

If I don’t like my job, I should quit it. Also, I should have known nursing was hard when I went into nursing school. – I’m not going to quit my job. I’m very good at my job. My blog post was about encouraging all nurses, including myself, to practice self care techniques to avoid the effects of compassion fatigue. For those who are unaware, compassion fatigue is not the same as burnout. Compassion fatigue is the result of repeated exposures to extreme stress over time. When units have high levels of compassion fatigue, they have higher incidents of falls, medication errors, and infections. Nurses suffering from compassion fatigue do not answer call lights and alarms as quickly. Compassion fatigue is a real issue among healthcare providers. The recommended treatment for compassion fatigue is time away from the source.

If every nurse who suffered from compassion fatigue, stress, frustration or burn out left nursing, healthcare as we know it would be irrevocably changed.

I’m a nurse. I’ve never called in sick, taken a mental health day, or complained about the long hours and working holidays.

Congratulations. Maybe you should write your own blog post about the stressors you experience on the job, and how you deal with them so the rest of us can learn. Maybe you are one of these nurses who practices lateral violence, and are part of the problem.

Other healthcare professions experience the same thing. Why weren’t we included in this post?

I’ve said it repeatedly in the comments: this post was about a specific interaction between nurses. Other healthcare professions certainly experience stress, compassion fatigue, and lateral violence. We all have a lot of responsibilities. I cannot write about problems experienced by respiratory therapists, paramedics, EMTs or other healthcare workers because I have only been a secretary, a tech, and a nurse. I write what I know. If you would like to write a blog entry about your specific profession, I would be happy to link to it on my blog.

Since last August, I have taken several steps to improve my personal stress level and mental and physical health. Because I am attending a BSN program that has clinicals, and am very fortunate to have a very supportive spouse, I have decreased my work hours for the next several months while I have nursing clinicals. This will also allow me an opportunity to help my feet heal, as the pain during work is quite significant. I realize not everyone can do this, and that I am very fortunate. I will still be spending 36+ hours a week on the hospital floor, as well as time in classes, so I will remain pretty busy.

I would like to recommend some reading for those interested in the problems facing nurses

From Silence to Voice: What Nurses Know and Must Communicate to the Public – Bernice Buresh and Suzanne Gordon

Nursing Against the Odds: How Health Care Cost Cutting, Media Stereotypes and Medical Hubris Undermine Nurses and Patient Care – Suzanne Gordon

The Effects of Nursing on Nurses

Hi, welcome to my blog post. I have never had a blog post get more than 50 comments, so I am a bit overwhelmed. After responding to many comments, here is a note:

Note: I wrote this blog entry at the end of my 3rd 12 hour shift in three days. I was tired and I was emotional. It is a blog post, not an “article.” It is not researched or sourced, it is purely opinion.

The point of this post is that nurses (and many other professions) need to take the time to practice self care and to encourage one another to practice self care.

My biggest mistake in this post (and there are many) was to use “her” or “she” when I should have used “they” or them.” I ignored my male coworkers, and I should not have. You have my apologies, and I have corrected the post. I have left “she” and “her” in place in the portion where I talk about my coworker.

I have read every comment posted and deleted some very nasty comments that were not helpful to conversation. If you feel this is the place to spew your vitriol, it is not.

 

August 11, 2013

This morning, while I was giving report to the day shift nurse taking over my patients, she burst into tears.

She’s going to miss her children’s hockey play offs due to our strictly enforced every other weekend schedules. You work every other weekend, no more, no less, unless you are going to college (I work every weekend because I’m in college). She’s their hockey coach, and inevitably, each year, their last game falls on a day their mother has to work. I’ve come in early for her before.

So I offered to come in on my night off for an hour and a half so she could get to the game. I’m coming in that early because I know she won’t be done charting.

She turned me down until another day RN got involved. I reminded my coworker I only live a mile from the hospital, and it really wasn’t a big sacrifice for me. She finally agreed, and calmed down. We got permission from the charge nurse.

Nursing is one of the largest professions in the world. If you don’t know a nurse, I’m really surprised. Nurses talk a lot about the rewards of nursing. Catching that vital sign, saving lives, providing comfort, but nurses, by nature, are taught to martyr themselves on the altar of nursing.

When I was a new grad, I hated coming to work so much that I would wish I’d get hit by a car on my way to work just to get out of work. One night, while checking medication sheets, I confessed this to some experienced nurses and found out some of them still felt the same way.

In nursing, it is NORMAL to have days where you wake up and just can’t mentally and emotionally face the day at work. I swear, the only other people who can understand this are nurses.

Nursing is emotionally, physically and mentally taxing, and some days you run too low on what you can give emotionally, physically and mentally. That minor back injury you don’t want to report to HR because you don’t want it on your record. Having a patient with constant diarrhea who can’t get out of bed and needs to be physically rolled and cleaned several times an hour. The cold you got from the two-year old someone brought in. The sorrow that comes from supporting someone who has just found out they were dying, holding in your own tears so you could wipe theirs. In one day, all of those patients could be yours.

I don’t know a nurse who hasn’t taken a mental health day. Some do it by requesting more vacation than others. Some do it by calling in sick, but it’s all time off because we are too drained to give anymore.

So if you know a nurse, and that nurse mentions to you that they feel like calling in because they just can’t take it another day, don’t give them a hard time. Especially if you have an 8-5 job with weekends off or some other really great schedule. The 12 hour shifts nurses work mean we miss the entire holiday we work with our families. Night shift nurses have to choose between holiday dinners or sleep. Often, if a nurse chooses to sleep rather than go to the holiday dinner, guilt ensues. Even though I’ve told my mother-in-law repeatedly that every nurse has to work holidays, she makes a point to say how horrible it is my husband has to be alone for a few hours. What about me? Working my ass off while everyone else celebrates?

We work hard. We are intentionally understaffed by our hospitals to improve profit, even if the hospital is a non-profit. We help people at the worst times of their lives, and often have no way to debrief, to get it off our chests. We don’t just bring warm blankets and pills. We are college educated, degreed professionals who are often treated like uneducated, lazy servants. We get sexually harassed by our patients. We get groped, punched, cut, I even know of a nurse on my floor being strangled (she survived).

Nursing can be rewarding. But nursing is a fucking hard job. If you are afraid of healthcare rationing, you should know it is already happening. Nurses are unable to give everyone the care they need, so patients with smaller problems may not get the same level of care. A nurse may be pressed to only give the minimum amount of care to a patient if they have 5 or more very sick patients. If you don’t want healthcare rationing, talk to your local hospitals about their nurse to patient ratios. Talk to your doctors. If you hear of legislation to support nurse to patient ratios, vote for it. Support it.

So if a nurse needs a day off, you support them. If you’re in a position to help like I was this morning, do so. If you are a nurse, go easier on yourself when you think about the things you didn’t finish, or the things you should have said. It’s a 24-hour a day job and you don’t have to do it alone.

As of January 27, 2014, this post is no longer accepting comments. I am doing this as a practice of self care. Tending to this blog post, several times a day, has become a burden. It has had over 2 million hits, and I am tired. The post has become a platform for people who want to propel their own agendas and are using my space to do so.  Thanks to all who said such nice things, and to everyone else, go write your own blog.

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.

A Nursing Post

On my first shift as a Registered Nurse, I went into a patient’s room to change her IV fluids. Instead of taking down the bag, I just pulled out the spike, showering myself in D5. The patient and my preceptor laughed so fucking hard.

A few years later, I was taking ice in to do a dermatome check, reached up to grab a glove to put it in, and poured ice down my scrubs in front of the patient and his 5 family members, who laughed their asses off.

For my last JoAnne moment of the day, someone spilled vanilla ice cream on the floor. I came running around the circular nurse’s station, I always move quickly, slipped on the ice cream, went airborne and fell on my ass. I got a standing ovation from the doctors, patients, and nurses, as well as a trip to the ER.

*bows*

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