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Sometimes being a nurse is a curse

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Nurses aren’t doctors. Now this isn’t some hot debate about advanced practice nurses versus the medical field (I’ll leave that for another day). This is about how our education and experience can sometimes backfire. Especially when it comes to self-diagnosis or trying to ‘help’ out a friend or family member.

We nurses find ways to rationalize why something is or is not happening. I’ve talked before about how we’ll get asked all kinds of crazy medical-based questions about one’s health just because we’re nurses. Most of them are harmless, but every once in a while we think we know more than we really do.

Take for instance when we ourselves get sick. We constantly encourage and educate our patients to never wait until the illness gets worse – always seek medical treatment from your health care provider as soon as possible. Postponing medical treatment can lead to much more severe health issues if not treated appropriately and in a timely manner.

And yet when we ourselves get sick we ‘ride it out,’ don’t we? We’ll be hacking and coughing up a lung, blowing our non-stop running nose and take enough Motrin/Tylenol/Aspirin to fill a gallon jug to take care of our body aches – but we still won’t go see our health care provider!

We rationalize our signs and symptoms as they relate to how we treat our own patients – makes sense to a degree. But we’re not our patients, are we?

I know, I know. We use our nursing education, training, and experience to direct our own care most of the time. The old adage of having ‘clear’ mucus seems to be a very popular theme amongst us. We have been told before, and have been directed by others with higher educations and degrees that the tell tale sign of an infection is the color of your secretions (yes ladies and gentlemen – the snot coming out of your nose). If it’s clear, then it’s probably viral. But if it’s yellow, or green, or chalky – well, then you have yourself a bacterial infection! And we all know that you can’t really ‘treat’ a viral infection with antibiotics, so just ride it out.

Better yet, just wait until the secretions turn colors. (by the way – a viral infection can induce a bacterial infection in many cases, jus’ sayin’).

The reality is we need to practice what we preach and take better care of ourselves. Not only do we postpone medical treatment, but we continue to work. We show up at work at half-speed, hoping for the best, when in reality we’re not doing anyone any good. The guilt of calling off is an amazing thing, isn’t it?

Luckily I’ve learned over the years that when the ‘signs’ of a cold show up, I don’t wait. Although I’m no better than the rest of us, because it took me three-quarters of a decade to catch on to this idea.

Be careful out there folks, and take care of yourselves like you take care of your patients.

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2 Responses to Sometimes being a nurse is a curse

  1. Kat

    I ignored fluctuating bp, dizzy spells, exhaustion, and the ugliest dark circles anyone has ever seen for two years. “you’re getting older, working too much, not getting enough sleep”, didn’t help either. Then one day I went from tired raccoon to writhing on the floor in excrutiating pain over three hours. Three weeks after emergency surgery for a perforated colon the raccoon eyes were gone. Now I have a temporary colostomy to deal with. Pay attention folks, you can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of you.

    • Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

      @ Kat Thanks for sharing, glad things turned out OK.

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