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Do nurses really know everything?

mantonino | Veer + Scrubs

I had a lovely visit today with a family that I know from the hospital. The mom just had her third baby, a perfectly healthy, beautiful boy.

I am most familiar with the second child in the family. Fortunately for me I get to spend time with him outside of his home; unfortunately for him the time is spent at the hospital. He has a cardiac defect and has undergone multiple open heart surgeries.

At four years old he is thriving–aside from the faint bluish tint that encircles his mouth and creeps into his fingertips, you would hardly know the rough road he has been down in his short life. Given my experience in pediatric cardiac nursing, I feel as though I have been as asset to this family.

A very apparent dichotomy exists in light of the new baby joining the ranks. Frankly, I don’t do healthy babies. I don’t know how to prevent him from having “normal” baby spit-ups, how to prevent gas, and no, I can’t give him Tylenol just because he’s fussy.

It’s quite frustrating for me–I can’t tell you the number of people that tell me what an experienced mother I’m going to be when I eventually have children. My response is always the same: I need to read the same books you do when I bring home my newborn because (God-willing) he/she will NOT have a midsternal incision that I must take care of, will not be on a methadone wean, and will not have a feeding tube! Throw me an NG tube to manage and I’m cool as a cucumber, toss in a little colic and–whoops–my knowledge goes out the window.

The same can be said for people who know I’m a nurse. It’s not unusual to receive phone calls to the nature of “I stepped on a nail, do you think I have osteomyelitis?” Trust me, people, Google knows a lot more about osteomyelitis than I do!

One of my favorites was when my best friend’s mom was describing the symptoms she had been having for a few weeks: fluttering heart rate, mild chest pain, shortness of breath on exertion. She had convinced herself that it was not precipitating symptoms for a heart attack, and she didn’t want to go to the doctor, so she wanted me to tell her what to do. Ummm, sounds to me like you need a good dose of a kick-in-the-butt-and-go-straight-to-your-cardiologist.

Although it sounds as though I’m complaining, I do feel truly honored that my friends, family, and complete strangers think I know everything. I think that says a lot for the profession of nursing as well. People trust us and respect our advice.

The more I think about it, perhaps we all do this more than we let on. I have a faint memory of being laughed at by my CPA friend who works in audits for a large corporation when I asked him to do my yearly taxes for me. And there was the time I asked the gentleman at ACE Hardware why my air conditioner was making a strange rattling noise.

Having faith in professionals is a good thing. But the next time I tell you to go to the doctor because I can’t diagnose why you’re having loose stools and a toothache, please listen to me.

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Nicole Lehr

Nicole Lehr is a pediatric nurse. She can be described in three adjectives: content, thankful and fortunate. All credit for the aforementioned description can be given to the love she has for her profession as an RN. She graduated from University of Florida with her Bachelor’s in Nursing and moved to Atlanta to work at the Cardiac Stepdown Unit at Children’s — her dream job.
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