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Behind Closed Doors
From Nurse to Patient
Paula Watkins
Publish Date: October 10, 2007   |  Tags:   Opinion

Long story short: I got sick. I underwent what my doctors called "major abdominal surgery" in February. As an OR nurse, I may draw distinctions between what's major and what's minor in surgery, but as a patient in a hospital bed, I had no doubt that everything about this ordeal was major.

I'll admit that I'm a bit of a control freak with an occasionally over-inflated ego. Also, OR nurses can't be the easiest patients to deal with. As a result, I was served up a big, bitter, eye-opening slice of humble pie during my time at the hospital.

On the plus side, the downtime of recovery provided me with an excellent opportunity to evaluate my experiences and reflect on how it feels to wear another person's shoes. Here are a few things I learned about doctors, nurses and patients from this inconvenient intermission that life punched me in the gut with.

  • Bowel preps are really degrading. After you've spent all night with one, your dignity and control go straight down the porcelain bowl.
  • On the morning of admission I showered and removed that unwanted hair we women like to pretend doesn't exist, because it's in a nurse's nature to. But I could understand why some surgical patients blow off hygiene. Given the pain and anxiety, you really don't care how clean you are.
  • The noise in the OR is deafening. Even 4mg of Versed didn't quiet the racket. I heard the details of every conversation and the rattle of every instrument.
  • It's not easy to move yourself from the stretcher to the hospital bed when surgery's over. There is no pain scale to rate this action. I was filleted like a fish. If they expected me to do any kind of moving, I was going to need general anesthesia or at least a spinal.
  • Some people can't handle their pain medication. I'm thankful that I have no memory of the demons unearthed by my epidural and pain pump; but to my family, my friends and the nurses on my floor, Nurse Jekyll apologizes for Ms. Hyde.
  • No matter where you work as a nurse, managing patients can try your patience. But at least OR nurses' patients are sedated or unconscious. I'm sure the nurses on my unit wished I had been.
  • Modesty's important to a patient, but if they're really feeling under the weather, they honestly don't care what's showing as long as someone can make the pain go away.
  • Some of you are offended by four-letter words. I know I seldom use that kind of language. But pain and fear are subjective, so don't judge a patient just by what comes out of her mouth.
  • Post-op surgical site infections don't only happen to patients that fail to take good care of themselves after their discharge. Even an uppity, know-it-all Southern lady like myself isn't exempt from one.
  • All surgeons are not created equal. In fact, my surgeon is the best one out there. I'd met him once before, as a nurse in his OR years ago. He'd intimidated me and I'd given him the devil in return. But now it was like having siblings you fight with: Anyone else touches your kin and you'll take him to the mat. The boy is good now.

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