are working day shift in the unit today, seven on evening shift,
and five or six at night. The unit is in the shape of an elongated
U, with the nurses station near the center. Neills
mother, born at this very hospital, also is a nurse. She
told me candidly what to expect. She was a pediatric nurse,
and after years it became really physically demanding and exhausting.
She was on her feet a lot, says Neill. One nurse
here was doing Weight Watchers and she bought one of those clickers
to see how much she walked. By the end of her shift, she had
walked three miles.
her patients charts, Neill stocks up on the medications
she will distribute this morningaspirin, cefuroxine, Colace,
Pepcid, heparin. She takes patients vital signs every
four hours, makes printouts of the EKG readings to attach to
their charts, does wound care and dressing changes, replaces
empty intravenous fluid bags with full ones. Neill follows doctors
orders for care, but monitors patients carefully. I have
questioned dosages, she says. A lot of the medications
and dosages we use are routine, so if I see a dosage Im
not familiar with, Ill ask a charge nurse.
there is mutual respect among the nurses, surgeons, and other
staff she works with on the unit. I pretty much know our
doctors, although we probably work more closely with the physicians
assistants, she says. My mom was there when you
stood up for doctors when they came into the room. Theres
much more recognition now that our role is a vital one, that
its a symbiotic relationship.
She checks on
the patient recovering from heart surgery, who has four chest
tubes, an IV, and an epidural for pain. Even with all of the
tubing attached to his body, he is sitting in a chair watching
the wall-mounted TV. Heart and lung patients often retain fluid
so they are encouraged to get out of bed and breathe deeply
to prevent pneumonia.
the man warmly. You didnt eat much off that breakfast
tray, she says.
two bowls of Jell-O. But Im feeling a little nauseous.
his vital signsblood pressure, pulse, temperature, heart
rate, respirationthen goes to the medstation to get a
dose of anti-nausea medication. She must punch in an ID number
and put her finger on a scanner before a computer-operated door
slides out with the proper prescription. Medications, many of
which are controlled substances such as synthetic morphine,
are rigorously monitored.
to the patients room and injects two vials of Droperidol
into his IV, which leads from a central line into the jugular
vein in his neck. This is the same medication you had
last night, she says. Did it help?
him back into bed, changes the linens on the chair, switches
out his chest drains. Once she gets the tubes leading to the
Pleurovac drainage machine untangled, she uses hemostats to
regulate the suction on each side of the Y-tube, a tedious and
a lot you learn on the job, that you dont in the classroom,
she says, from the technical stuff to the emotional aspects
of the patient and their family.
her gloves, then washes her hands with green antibacterial soap
in the sink beside the bed. It really dries your hands
out washing them every five minutes, she says. Even in
this high-tech era, however, there is no better safeguard to
prevent the spread of infection.
most aspects of her jobworking with patients and colleagues,
applying what shes learned in school, educating someone
who wants a healthier lifestyle, even the adrenaline-pumping
moments when shes attending a patient in crisis. Her least
favorite task: the paperwork. Its really easy to
get behind. Theres hours of it each day, she says,
after returning to the nurses station to log her patients
vital signs into his chart.
Just past noon,
Neill makes sure her patients lunch trays have been distributed.
She leaves a note on the tray of the man with diabetes and kidney
disease, who is still in dialysis, so workers wont take
his tray away before he returns.
Neill gets a
half-hour for her own lunch, which she usually brings from home
and eats in the units cramped conference room in case
shes paged. Today, its a turkey sandwich on whole
wheat, a large bunch of green grapes, and pretzels. During her
twelve-hour shifts, she eats at mid-afternoon. Thats
the one thing thats kind of hard, Neill says. My
friends all have regular, business-hour-type schedules, and
theyre always talking about going out to eat lunch in
Since she was
in high school, though, Neill never wavered in her career choice.
Even as a child, she dressed as a nurse every Halloween. My
mom would bring home supplies, and I would play doctor on my
little brother, she says.
By 3 p.m., Neill
has already put in a hectic eight-hour work day. Shes
sat down just three timestwice to update charts, once
for lunch. And she still has four hours to go. Sometimes,
I think the publics image of nurses is as bedpan pushers
who wear white shirts and little hats . . . a pretty archaic
view, she says. My friends are amazed when I tell
them about pulling out chest tubes and some of the other pretty
involved stuff we do.
The nurses of
Unit 21, however, clearly have a devoted fan club. Hand-written
notes, cards, and drawings line the walls and fill the bulletin
boards. They read: The family wishes to thank you, all
the good nurses on the second floor, for being so nice and thoughtful
while my grandpa was in for heart surgery, and Dear
Unit 21 nurses, Thank you for taking such good care of my mommy.
Im her youngest daughter. Im glad shes home.