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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2005
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MY LIFE
Felecia Edmiston

Patients need more patience

These days, it seems that health care, along with every other business, is out to make money. Hospital administrators refer to patients as "customers" or "clients." Hospitals, like most businesses, want to "keep the customer happy." That's not possible when what the customer wants is not in his or her best interest. Sometimes, it's hard for people to understand the difference between their wants and needs.

I'm an emergency room nurse. There are days when I question my career choice. Much of the ER population comes in with demands rather than requests. Nursing has become a thankless job. Our fast-paced world with its fast-food mentality has spilled into health care. Emergency room patients used to care about each other. They used to say, "Take care of the sickest first, and then take care of me." In the last seven years, I've witnessed that mentality change to "It's all about me."

Expectations of some "clients" are often unreasonable. They don't understand that there may be an empty bed, but no nurse to tend to it or that one seriously ill patient might require two or three nurses. There is also a lack of understanding about why it takes time to get results for lab work, X-rays and CT scans. It's not fast food; it's health care. The two cannot be treated the same.

I became a nurse because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be a hand of God and help heal the sick. I guess the years have taken their toll. I feel like there is a gap between nurses and the people for whom we care. People used to come in, get help and thank you when they left. Now, the atmosphere is different. Rather than being appreciative that they are feeling better, patients are upset that they had to spend three hours in the ER.

This "gap" between society and nurses is disturbing. People I've talked to who've had sick relatives say there is a common perception that health-care workers "sit on their butts and make you wait on purpose." Nurses would love to get everyone out as quickly as possible. Then, the ER would be empty, and we could finish a cup of coffee or a meal before it gets cold. A colleague of mine once clocked how much she walked in a given shift. For a 12-hour shift, she walked almost 10 miles. The fact that a nurse is sitting doesn't mean she's not working. Maybe the nurse is charting or waiting on a physician to call. There are many reasons for delays. If you've never worked in health care, it can be hard to understand.

Nurses would love to move things along faster, but we are human and have only two hands. Most of us are doing our best. It's hard to take care of people compassionately when you are subject to insults muttered under someone's breath, cross looks and finger pointing. That treatment creates a hostile environment and defeats us all. It's taxing to show compassion and empathy to someone who is discourteous to you. It becomes emotionally exhausting and disheartening.

The shortage of experienced nurses is getting worse. More and more nurses are fed up with how they are treated and are looking for alternate ways to make a living. Many are in school now, not furthering their nursing careers, but studying to leave health care for less stressful careers. Society cannot afford to lose the expertise of these caregivers because of lack of appreciation and thanklessness. If all of us do more listening and caring, we can turn it around.

Have you heard the phrase "Pay it forward?" Try it; it works. When you have to seek medical care, smile at your caregiver. A smile or a kind word will make a world of difference. The happier the nurse, the better care you'll receive and, in turn, the happier you will be. People tend to want to do good for those who are good to them; that concept is true most anywhere. Health care is no exception. Negative emotions and actions spread like a plague, but can be cured by something as simple as kindness.

Felecia Edmiston, 32, is a Trinity resident and a travel nurse who fills staff shortages at hospitals. She currently works as an emergency room nurse at Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham.

Felecia Edmiston Felecia Edmiston

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