Finding Balance: The Role of the Nurse as a Health Care Consumer

February 18th, 2015 by

Mom and daughter at hospitalWhen a close family member is hospitalized, how do you manage to find the balance between advocating for the best care, and not threatening and challenging the nurse on duty?

I’m sitting in the dark hospital room listening to the click and creak of the IV pump mingled with the intermittent hum of voices working the early hours of a night shift. My mom sleeps in the bed in front of me. Finally, sleeping. It has been a long three days.

When she was admitted to the emergency room, they ran a score of tests. The first doctor did a rectal exam and never returned.  The next doctor came in and obliquely said that he was the internist blah blah blah, see how you tolerate clears blah blah blah, monitor your lab values and send you home.

My parents nodded and smiled, and then my mom said, “So I can go home?” The doctor laughed and said, “I said I was the internist! It was the first thing I said!”  I wanted to say “Brother, you said NOTHING.”

Time moves slowly in the hospital, and it seems like nothing is ever getting done. The world begins to shrink to the size of the hospital room, and it feels like the nurse should be doing more.

She was transferred to a surgical floor, and after an x-ray at 3 am, they told her 6 hours later that she would need another colonoscopy, which is what brought her to the ER in the first place.

Everything moves so slowly in the hospital- labs every six hours,  results two hours later, with an action corresponding to that lab value anywhere from 6-24 hours after that. When you see your nurse three times a shift, no matter how wonderful they are, you begin to wonder, “What the HECK is actually happening in this place?”

I sit there, torn. I know the bustle and madness of a med-surg floor. I end up defending the medical staff, “Oh you don’t even know how crazy it gets, one going to surgery, one crashing, one keeps getting out of bed and they are always short staffed. I think that aide is doing a double tonight.”

Inside, however, I’m just as annoyed. When her hemoglobin was 6.7 at 4 am, and we were informed at 8:30 am that she would be needing a transfusion, and then she was type and screened at 11:00 am and finally transfused at 2 pm, as she got paler and weaker, I was beyond frustrated.

There’s no code of ethics for how to act when you are a nurse on the consumer end of the healthcare spectrum. It’s less of a strict line and more of a dance.

While I am working, I know that getting anything done quickly is nearly impossible unless you are in a code situation, and there is nothing I can do aside from irritate the doctor, which will serve me poorly in the long run.  It’s a bit of a puzzle having patients with family member/nurses advocating for them.

I feel both relieved that they have an advocate and also, if I’m honest, scared that they will find me wanting as a nurse. I hate that. I don’t want to do that to anyone. But sitting in my mom’s hospital room, it feels like a different story. It feels like nothing is happening. It feels like we could do all this from home, and that she just isn’t that important to these people.

Do I risk challenging and annoying the nurse that will be caring for my mother for the next 12 hours? How do I show her that I’m grateful for her care even when I feel like she’s not thinking hard enough or acting fast enough, and that maybe she could speed things up a bit?

I wish I had a solid answer for this. I wish I could find the line and walk it straight through the whole admission process. It seems to be more of a dance. A dance between the ups and the downs.  While being so grateful for the extra mile the nurse has gone to make sure my mom’s headache is relieved, I wonder if she has actually called the lab to order that the type and screen be done in a timely manner.

If I believe in nursing, and I do, then I have to trust that the person they hired to do this job is qualified enough to do it well. I have to remember that I don’t really know what their patient load is, and that I am not fully versed in the procedures set in place in a particular facility.

Taking the time to recognize how powerless I feel in the situation also helps. My family looks to me to be the expert, and sometimes when they ask me “Why?” I should just say, “I don’t know. Let’s ask her nurse.”




About the Author:

Sarah Heroman

Sarah Heroman is an RN, BSN who has found her niche as a school nurse in Texas. With almost 20 years of experience, Sarah is still passionate about the nursing field and enjoys mentoring and helping nurses continue to find the joy in their careers. She believes that a good nurse is able to combine the science and the art of nursing and find fulfillment in providing the best care for their patients.

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