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Friday, June 3, 2011

So What's it Really Like Being a Nursing Home Nurse?

The last few weeks I have worked my tail off.  I've worked harder and longer without eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, or even sitting than I ever have before.  To say the least my new job is not an easy one and it is not exactly the job I expected, but in a good way.

In case you forgot, I was extremely nervous about starting my new job in a nursing home.  It was the one line of work I swore I wouldn't do once I graduated nursing school.  People constantly make fun of nursing home nurses, especially in the EMS line of work.  They are degraded, regarded as idiots, and talked down to.  I'll begrudgingly admit, I've even done some of the degrading myself...  for example when I have encountered a nurse who called 911 yet knows nothing about the patient, history, condition, or normal mental status of the patient.  Now that I am on the other side I have a whole new view point on what it is like caring for the elderly.

Not just the elderly, or some elderly, but on any given day I have over twenty elderly patients in my care. 

That is the part that seems ridiculous to me...

and exhausting.

But having to care for so many patients in a nursing home setting is common place.  One nurse is expected to pass medications, sometimes up to four times a shift, to all the patients.  Every single patient is to be assessed.  Treatment must be done, including skin treatments, dressing changes, and other specialty procedures (like IVs or catheterizations).  There is more paperwork than I could ever imagine.  Families to call with every single medication change.  Nurses Aids need delegation and supervision, almost constantly.  Then if something emergent comes up, which I have learned always does, everything else must be dropped and that becomes a priority.

And I have to stop calling them patients.... they are residents at the nursing home, not patients. 

Most days I only get to sit down when I get lunch and on many of those days I usually don't even get a full 30 minute lunch break, because something happens that keeps me with the residents. If I am lucky I can cram in a bathroom break and granola bar after my morning medications are finished and before I start my noon time medications and treatments. 

Usually by then my baby is kicking in protest.

I don't blame her.

Its hard work.  I feel exhausted at the end of the day, physically and mentally.  I've done so many nursing skills, far more than I did working at a drug rehab, and even more than I did in my actual nursing school clinicals.  In the three weeks I've been at the nursing home I've done procedures over and over again that I only did once or twice, if at all, in my entire two years of nursing school.  Also, contrary to popular belief, I've wiped far less behinds in the nursing home than I ever did in the hospital (to the chagrin of my friends who say nurses are just paid to wipe butts.)

For the life of me, though, I can't understand why its an acceptable standard for a nurse in a nursing home to take care of so many doggone residents at once.  It doesn't seem safe to me, but yet its standard practice.  Yes, I can pass all the medications and squeeze in all the treatments, but really I have no time to interact with the residents beyond a couple minutes.  The ease of something serious slipping by me because I am taking care of so many other people at the same time scares me.  I can't be twenty places at once. 

But I do my best!  ...hence why baby goes without a break for four or five hours at a time sometimes.

And I won't fill this post entirely about complaints and concerns of the tribulations of my job, because there are some great things about it!  Honestly, I love almost all of the residents (barring the select few that are truly rude, mean, and verbally abusive).  Their conversations make me laugh and smile and there is nothing I enjoy more than making them smile.  Its so very simple and in just three weeks I am starting to form great bonds with those people.  Seeing and taking care of the same people over and over again is totally foreign and enjoyable to me. 

Also, I should mention that my coworkers are wonderful!  They each face the same obstacles that I do and yet we manage to laugh, help each other out, and enjoy what we do.  Its crazy how that happens. And at the end of a long, hard day, where everything seems to go wrong and nothing is even close to being on schedule they are there to tell me that they had a great day working with me and offer encouragement as my tired body finishes the end of shift paperwork. 

It is weird how things end up...

I am working a job that I thought I'd never consider.  I am doing nursing care to a degree much higher than I expected or ever saw done in a general medical/surgical unit at a hospital.  I am learning about nursing and myself whilst the whole time I am enjoying it!  Granted I am totally exhausted and have swollen feet after it all...

But that's what its really like. 


R. Roushey said...

It really does sound like you have been busy and you have every right to be exhausted! I worked at a long term care facility for 3 months and like you, loved the residents but hated the paperwork! However, I was a therapeutic recreation specialist, so I got to spend more time talking with the residents and running programs, so I can totally relate to the fun conversations and the not so fun comments some of the men make...

Make sure to get enough pee breaks in! You don't want to get a UTI! That can start preterm labor you know, as can drink lots of water while you work; but, why should I tell you this, you're the nurse!

Rosanne said...

It is so nice to hear, that in spite of all the paperwork and too many patients to care for, that you enjoy your new job. It's a true shame that the nurses at your facility have so many patients to care for. My mom was in a rehab center for several weeks after falling and breaking her hip. The nusing staff was wonderful, but much overworked too. It sure would be nice if that could change.
Make sure you take good care of yourself!

Anonymous said...

Funny how that happens eh? Life is full of the unexpecteds (is that even a word?)

It's hydrantgirl - blogger is giving me grief and won't let me sign in.

MarieElizabeth said...

I'm pretty exhausted just by your description! I'm sure they appreciate your hard work and caring.

ER RN inTN said...

We think the same things about the nursing home nurses in TN as you do in Vermont. Good luck. They need someone like yourself in the nursing home setting.

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