Another open letter to Nurse Nina
Today I read this article in The Dallas Morning News entitled “Free of Ebola but not fear: Nurse Nina Pham to file lawsuit agains Presby parent, worries about continued health woes” by Jennifer Emily (thank you, Katie Duke, for sharing). Nurses and nursing students, please read it.
Hey Nurse Nina,
My name is Kati and I’m a fellow critical care nurse. I wrote a letter to you on my nursing blog back when all of the Ebola stuff was happening in the news. Today I’m reminded that when someone goes through something traumatic and painful, not only do they need support and encouragement in the midst of it, but also after the dust settles.
I read the interview you did with The Dallas Morning News. I read and reflected. I put myself in your nursing shoes (Danskos, right?) and tried to think about how I would feel. I, too, have cared for someone shift after shift, only to watch them die before my eyes. The images of patients in their final moments struggling to breathe, their hearts stopping and their skin turning ghostly pale, will be burned in my mind for the rest of my life. Being a nurse comes with a heavy, heavy burden.
I can only imagine how difficult it was to watch Mr. Duncan die. I know you formed a bond with him, cared for him, and were there for his most intimate and vulnerable moments. I’m sure he talked to you about death. I’m sure he cried. I’m sure you held his hand and reassured him. I’m sure your heart was ripped in half, left to lie on that dirty isolation room hospital floor.
Every day as a nurse, I try to disconnect the dots so I can be more emotionally available for my patients. I pretend that it’s not a possibility for me to contract or experience whatever it was that got my patient into intensive care. Being slightly detached from reality while I’m trying to critically think about all the things I need to do during a shift…making sure my medications are all appropriate, vital signs are stable and treating them appropriately as they become unstable, calling the physician when something is wrong, emotionally supporting the patient, coordinating care with an entire healthcare team and basically making sure every single need of that patient is met…is a survival tactic used by many nurses. Doing so with Mr. Duncan was probably a challenge; however, I cannot imagine how difficult it was to watch the patient you bonded with die before your eyes, only to find out that you were infected with the disease that killed him.
That’s absolutely terrifying. I watched the situation unfold like the rest of the world did: through the eyes of the news. From my perspective, you handled the entire situation with bravery and grace. I was, and still am, proud to share your profession.
I’m upset for you
However, when I read in your article that you specifically requested multiple times to remain anonymous, yet Gary Weinstein, MD, your treating physician, filmed you without your consent and the hospital published the video, I got hypertensive. The second you went from nurse to patient, things should have changed completely. If your name was to be private, that should have been respected. Your role as employee and nurse ended, and at that moment you had become a patient of that hospital.
Sadly, at that point you were not a patient to them. You were an opportunity to make them just not look so bad. I wish they had used that opportunity to support and protect you, not exploit you, after you risked your life to care for Mr. Duncan.
I cringe—in anger and frustration. I am furious that this organization, together with your physician, created an instance to obtain a video of you despite your repeatedly expressed desire to remain private, as well as lied to you and used it to make themselves look better.
That seemingly private moment of you in your hospital gown in tears was obtained and mass distributed illegally. Every nurse and nursing student in this world understands how unethical and illegal that is.
You trusted that physician with your life and he exploited you to make the hospital look better. He should be fired. The group of hospital employees that facilitated the making and distribution of that video should face an investigation and they should all lose their jobs.
They kept identifying you as a nurse, but at that point, you were a patient. With a right to privacy. And that was horribly violated.
We live in a society in which a nurse can get fired in the middle of a shift for reposting a picture that a physician posted online, but a physician can lie to a patient and film them without their consent, and mass distribute it to all major news networks, and still have a job.
I am appalled at Gary Weinstein’s lack of professional judgment and violation of the Hippocratic oath.
I am horrified at the complete disrespect of you and the violation of your privacy.
I am also upset that you were put in that situation—not being adequately prepared to safely care for Mr. Duncan. I respect and understand the duty you felt to do your job as a nurse and continue to care for him. I would have done the same thing.
I want to publicly say thank you for caring for Mr. Duncan. Reading that article about how emotionally difficult it was to care for him, how physically and mentally exhausting it was dealing with the isolation process and waste…I could see and understand it in a way that probably all of the nurses in the country could. We understand what all that entails and how difficult it must have been.
I want to encourage you
I also want to encourage you. There is a nation of nurses out here, standing with you. We support you. We are thankful for you. We are happy that you have physically recovered, and are praying for mental and emotional healing. I know court proceedings are a tough process, and I pray that it will go as smoothly and as quickly as possible.
I know your life may not feel like your own at this point. You worked your butt off in nursing school, became a nurse, and suddenly you have this traumatic experience and you’re left to figure out what’s next.
There is an amazing and supportive community of nurses on social media. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and blogs all contain so many amazing nurses who understand what you went through. I want to encourage you to get involved and see this world of supportive nurses online. We want to stand with you against this injustice because you are one of our own. And you did not deserve to be exploited so a hospital could attempt to save face.
You will overcome this. You will do, and have done, great things. “He who is faithful with little will be faithful with much,” and you were faithful and diligent with Mr. Duncan and his care.
Do not despise the day of small beginnings, because through this you will rebuild and do even greater things. Rejoice in life, health and Bentley. You are so awesome and brave to me. I don’t know you personally, but I am proud of you. Proud of the example you have provided as a nurse. You’ve handled everything with dignity and grace.
I know you publicly mentioned relying on God to get you through this. I read a verse today that I thought might encourage you.
“…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
If you’re ever in Charlotte, come hang out with me! I’ll take you to get some delicious Charlotte food and my dogs would love to snuggle you.
We support you
And now I want to address the rest of the nurses in the nation. I want us all to stand with Nina…throughout the trial she will face, as she recovers from this trauma and as she fights this horrible injustice. We are constantly told how essential HIPAA is, that our patient’s privacy is of the utmost priority, that we will lose our jobs for exposing our patient’s private information—and this hospital and her physician, leaders of the institution, severely violated her basic right. I know you are as disgusted as I am. I want nurses all over the country, and world, to write notes of encouragement to Nina. I want our voice heard as a nation and a world of nurses, both in support of her hard work as a nurse and as a patient who deserved her right to privacy. Just because she was a nurse employed at that facility didn’t make her any less of a patient. I want us to fight for her like she is our coworker and our patient.
I also want to acknowledge and support Amber, who also contracted Ebola. I can only imagine she is having a similar experience since the Ebola dust has settled in the United States. Know that we uplift and support you as well.
All the best,
Learning how to be a great nurse at the bedside while maintaining your sanity at home is no easy task. Becoming Nursey: From Code Blues to Code Browns, How to Take Care of Your Patients and Yourself talks about how to realistically live as a nurse, both at home and at the bedside…with a little humor and some shenanigans along the way. Get ready: It’s about to get real, real nursey. You can get your own copy at NurseEyeRoll.com (PDF), Amazon (paperback) or Goodreads (ebook).
Kati Kleber BSN, RN CCRN is a a nationally certified critical care nurse located in Charlotte, NC. She is the Nurse Advisor and Editorial Director of the #ProtectNurses initiative, and will be guiding the content we curate, create, and share back with you. Kleber, aka Nurse Eyeroll, is a popular blogger, the voice behind the wildly successful #ProTips series, and a frequent speaker on nursing leadership. You can buy her book "Becoming Nursey" at nurseeyeroll.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other sites. She also has two more books in the works, which will be published by the American Nurses Association and on shelves Feb. 2016!
By Kati Kleber BSN, RN