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Local View: Tired as we are, nurses won’t — can’t — stop caring

From the column: "We are all tired of working short-staffed, working extra hours, being in isolation, and having relentless patient loads with admission after admission, death after death."

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Bruce Plante / Cagle Cartoons

I am a nurse. I have been working as a nurse for 39½ years in an ICU. I became a nurse because of the good nurses do. My mother was a nurse. My wife is a nurse. My son and his wife are nurses.

Growing up, I wanted to be a physician. My father became chronically ill and was hospitalized frequently. Because of this I spent a large amount of time visiting him. It became very apparent to me that the nurses cared for him more, did more to help him get better, and made him more comfortable than the physicians. Certainly, the physicians cared for him and worked hard to help him, but the nurses were there providing the direct care he needed. Thus, a nurse — me — was born.

As nurses, we connect with patients. We hold their hands. We provide care that many others, including family members, would not do. We listen when the patient is most vulnerable. We hear and see things that we cannot share with anyone. We soothe, we console, we educate. But most of all, we care. We give of ourselves to help others.

Since I started working in the 1980s, there have been many changes to the care patients receive. We have new technologies to help diagnose and treat patients. There is now an electronic medical record, allowing for better tracking and care, but at the same time requiring ever more documentation from the caregivers. There are many new life-saving medications that allow patients to live with and overcome illnesses that would have taken their lives in the past. There are new diseases, bacteria, and viruses. All of these things require nurses to adapt, learn, and change how care is given. Nurses adapt and troubleshoot; well, we figure it out.

All of these changes also result in the patients we serve being sicker and more complicated. The more complicated the care becomes, the harder the work becomes. The work nurses do has become increasingly difficult for many reasons, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has just exacerbated those difficulties.

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I just need to say this: I am tired. Maybe I am tired because I am 63 years old. Maybe it is because I have spent more than 80,000 hours bending over hospital beds caring for very ill patients, holding hands and giving back rubs. Maybe it is because those 80,000 hours mean I have spent more than 10 full years of my life helping patients and their families during some of the hardest points in their lives, crying with them, laughing with them, remembering times with them. No matter the reason, I am tired, and so are all my fellow nurses.

The current workloads nurses are experiencing are overwhelming. We are all tired of working short-staffed, working extra hours, being in isolation, and having relentless patient loads with admission after admission, death after death. We are tired of not being able to always provide the care that is needed. Basic patient care can be left at the wayside by workloads that have the potential for us to fail to rescue a patient or prevent adverse events. We are feeling a moral injury.

I started this by saying I am a nurse. I will always be a nurse and am very proud of being a nurse. I just needed to tell people how tired I am — and all nurses are. But no matter how tired we are, we will continue to care for you, your families and loved ones, and hopefully ourselves.

Steve Strand is an ICU nurse in Duluth.

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Steve Strand

Related Topics: HEALTHCARECORONAVIRUS
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