Friday, May 07, 2010

When the Nurse Abuses a Patient

I haven't brought a problem to the readers in some time, but I'm doing it now. My only motive for telling this story is that I want to be believed.

I left my job at Skagit Valley Hospital several months ago, and I figured that the passing of time would settle things and I would just leave it all behind. I left because the stress of the work was just getting to be too much. That's what I told everybody, but it was worse than that.

I saw a nurse abusing a patient. Working as her aide, I was not only a witness to this, I was an accomplice. It was horrible. So many hundreds of hours bedside, working with wonderful nurses, and I had never seen anyone act like that. I had seen kind and caring nurses. I had seen nurses, tired and under a lot of pressure, but still managing to act professionally.

But this nurse was just being mean. There's no other way to put it. The patient was past 80, hard of hearing and confused. He hardly knew he was in the hospital. This is a common situation. There's medication for anxiety and people like me are with the patient to help them get through the day.

Then she comes in and says, standing at the foot of the bed, "Mr. Jorgenson, It's time for your medication.....MR. JORGENSON .... Why you're as deaf as a stump!" Then she gave him a slap on the leg and a poke in the chest, and that seemed to stir him a bit. He woke a little and took his pills.

You had to be there. I was deeply shocked. I had never, ever seen anything approaching this kind of behavior. Of course, the patient couldn't hear here mocking words, but he could feel her contempt. He was just a kind old man living out his last days.

You never take it out on a patient. You take it out on the rest of the staff if you need to, or your dog, or your family.

This kind of behavior is rare, but it happens. And it was the third time, on three different shifts, that I had seen this same nurse act this way, scolding patients and treating them with contempt. She wasn't having a bad day. This was habitual behavior and very wrong.

And yet it was so deniable. I didn't report it. I knew what would happen if I did report it -- lots of trouble, for me. Jan Iversen, the Chief Nursing Officer at the hospital, had made it very clear to me in prior conversations that the "chain of command" was inviolate.

And I knew the culture of the hospital. It had become almost ingrained in me. "Keep your head down and do your job."

I didn't report it, because I would not have been believed.

Three choices I faced:

1. Report the abuse, and go through Kafkaesque bureaucratic hell.
2. Continue to work and pray that I would not be assigned to this nurse again.
3. Leave the hospital.

I left the hospital and never told anyone. Months have passed. It still bothers me.

You don't need to go to nursing or medical school to know abuse when you see it. Her behavior and attitude was dramatically different. My instincts and life experience are enough to make that judgment. She knew she could get away with it in front of me, because of my position. That was awful too.

This is true, what I have told you.

I'm not going back to the hospital. I'm not going to pursue this in anyway. We'll be getting back to the farm and garden news shortly.

Have a good weekend.

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