Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D.

Ode to Nurses

A few weeks ago, after feeding my face with rich, dense chocolate cake brought by a truly awesome nurse (for no particular reason other than a warm and generous spirit), I walked back into a room to check on a post-cardiac arrest patient.

After surveying his vitals on the monitor, I turned my attention to two nurses and a pharmacist who were discussing the management of his six drips. He was on three pressors, fluids, antibiotics, Protonix and blood was on the way. I looked at the tangle of tubes running from the subclavian central line I had placed and traced them back to the scrolling green characters on the IV pump screens. And then I realized: I have no idea how to run these things!

I have never programmed an IV pump. I have paused alarms, and shut them off. But, I have never programmed milligrams/kilogram/minute using those stiff little buttons.

It got me thinking of all of the tasks, kindnesses, and skills I sometimes take for granted.

  • IV’s

IV placements are like intubations. Most aren’t hard, but some are. Successful IV placements are most difficult on patients whose vessels are damaged (dialysis patients and IV drug users for example). The nurses I work with are so awesome, I haven’t even had to attempt an ultrasound guided peripheral IV since I finished residency.

Thank you, skilled colleagues! For EJ’s (IV’s in the external jugular vein/neck) and delicately threaded 22-gauges in thumbs/feet!

  • Medications

Nurses have to calculate the volume of every IV medication doctors order because orders are entered in milligrams and given by milliliters. Math is hard, y’all.

And every once in a while I have an exchange that goes like this:

Patient: I need some more pain medication.

Me: It’s ordered. I’ll let your nurse know.

Patient: Well, why don’t you get it for me?

I have never actually given the most honest answer which is:

“Because I can’t! I can’t get into the fancy drug safe thingy!”

Most drugs are stored in a “Pyxis.” Doctors don’t have codes for these dispensaries. We enter orders for drugs and can give drugs, but we truly have to rely on nurses to actually get them.

  • Team spirit!

On a particularly busy shift, I had a constipated patient just waiting to be disimpacted. I was running around doing other things and had put his poop-problem on my low-priority list. A nurse (who may now be one of my favorite nurses ever) came to me and offered to do it. Talk about taking one for the team!

  • Food for sharing

Walk into any hospital break room in the country and you will likely find a central table laden with half-eaten boxes of doughnuts and platters of homemade Pinterest deliciousness. Vendors drop off “thank you for your patronage” edibles, doctors buy takeout, and drug reps bring meals, but nurses “take the cake” when it comes to bringing/sharing food.

Holidays, of course, bring out the crockpots en masse and there’s also mini-feasting for co-worker birthdays, showers, retirements and going away parties. But sharing food in healthcare is not just for special occasions, it’s part of the everyday culture (thanks to nurses).

If I had a Chuck-E-Cheese token for every time I heard a nurse say, “I brought [some homemade yummy thing] to share,” my kids could play skee ball every day, all summer, until they graduate from high school.

  • Inexplicable generosity

When I delivered my children during residency, nurse friends decorated my hospital door and surprised me with gifts including homemade blankets and bibs. When I started writing, nurses I have worked with became some of my most encouraging supporters.

All of these thoughts/memories came flooding back while I looked at those little IV pump screens.

I felt overwhelmed. I have truly worked with some of the best of the best. I wondered:  How can I honor their generosity, kindness, sacrifice, friendship and skill?

Poetry was the first thing that came to mind. I thought: I will write an ode and it will be great!! And then I started trying to rhyme and it came out more like a limerick than a sonnet. But I went with it anyway. Here goes:

 


Stick, flash, draw, flush, no hesitation

You get prompt IV access for medication

You calculate grams to liters in your heads

Wrestle combative patients to their beds

Run multiple drips on a patient who’s dying

Comfort the lonely, dry tears for the crying

You recognize stories full of bullpucky

Answer call lights, do tasks, even if they’re sucky

You handle stressful situations with finesse

Reassure helicopter parents with tirelessness

You suffer the theatrics of histrionics

Listen to the rants of florid psychotics

But even patients who holler and patients who groan

Are so much better than the interpreter phone

Patient to Pyxis and Pyxis to desk

You hustle and hustle without any rest

You have a tolerant nose, a stomach of steel

Wipe pee, poop and blood, then go eat a meal

The break room has food, there’s enough to share

Hurry – you’ve only got a moment to spare

Thinking of home, you check the clock

Down the hall they administer a shock

The sigh in your chest is heavy and deep

But you have a thousand more steps before you can sleep

A thousand more steps before you can sleep


Alas, Shakespeare I am not. But, hopefully, through my clumsy couplets, you will still hear a heartfelt, “thank you.” I am grateful to work alongside you, to know you, to call you friends.

 

I invite all who read this to write couplets in the comments! Let’s make a giant ode to nurses together!!

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Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D.

Author of the viral post: 10 Things to Know Before Your Next Visit to the Emergency Department. Board certified emergency medicine physician, wife, mother, aspiring novelist.
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7 Comments

  1. Mel

    For 20+ years I’ve been a nurse and I don’t think I’ve ever felt truly appreciated by the doctors I’ve worked with – until now (and we don’t ever work together). You get it and I hope that your blog goes viral. THANK YOU!!!

    1. Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D. (Post author)

      Wow, Mel – thank YOU!

  2. Tyler Grote

    Hello Kristin, I’m with a travel nursing company that employs hundreds of travel nurses. We loved this article and would like to share on our blog, of course giving full credit and citation to you. Would this be alright?

  3. SK

    Hi Kristin, I’m an editor at HuffPost and would love to crosspost a version of this on our site. If you are interested, please do send me an email.

  4. Kathy Garet

    I love your poem!

    1. Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D. (Post author)

      So sweet of you, thank you!

  5. Kassi

    I shall address you as Dr. Ott in my response, due to your specific subject matter. It is important for everyone reading this to remember you are the one with the medical degree.
    I know many nurses well, yet very few doctors.
    I have never met a nurse who is not over-worked and under-appreciated, especially by Physicians.
    That changed today. As always, your self awareness of your own expertise is always tempered by your own vulnerabilities. Bravo for being secure enough in your own gifts to be able to also see the unique gifts of those around you.
    This article needs to be up in every hospital and doctor office lounge, every medical school building, and not just in the nurses lounge. Doctors need to be reminded of this every day.
    Bless you, Kristin. You have changed the dialogue.

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