In the last 24 hours, nurses around the U.S. have banded together against some disrespectful remarks made by Sen. Maureen Walsh yesterday during her speech regarding SHB 1155. This bill would mandate regular, uninterrupted breaks and lunches for nurses. It also prohibits mandatory overtime for “hospices, hospitals, rural health care facilities, certain psychiatric hospitals, facilities owned and operated by prisons and jails that provide health services to inmates in the custody of the Department of Corrections.” If you wish to view the bill in it’s entirety, you may click here.
Sen. Walsh believes that nurses at rural hospitals have plenty of breaks and somehow even have the time to play cards during their shifts. She also believes that our shifts should be eight hours instead of 12, if our 12 hour shifts are making us tired.
Sen. Walsh, I have some education for you*.
I work at a rural hospital in Kentucky. We are not considered a Critical Access Hospital, although we do not serve a huge population. I am a night shift nurse. I work from 7pm to 7am. 12 hours, although my days usually end up being much longer. I have to be clocked in for my shift by 6:45pm, and often do not get to leave work until 8am after giving bedside reports. By then, I’ve already added another hour and 15 minutes to my day. I live about 20 minutes from work, so add my commute and reports, and my 12 hour day has become at least 14. 14 hours that I am away from home and away from my family each day that I work. 14 hours a day where I am giving up my life to serve others. Sen. Walsh mentioned in her speech that “we need to care for patients, first and foremost.” This is probably the only statement she made which I can agree with. Myself and my colleagues DO care for patients first and foremost. That is why we get up early and stay late, work long, odd hours, and skip lunches and breaks- to care for patients before we care for ourselves.
Walsh mentions nurses “talking out of both sides of their mouth telling us how tired they are.” Thus, she proposes eight hour shifts. Let’s discuss why eight hour shifts are a poor idea for hospital nurses. Hospitals are 24/7/365 facilities. We do not get to close for birthdays, baseball games, or holidays. This means that some of us, myself included, are stuck working less than desirable shifts. Eight hour shifts would make this even worse. Nurses typically work three 12 hour shifts in the hospital setting. After working three night shifts in a row, I’m exhausted. It takes at least two days for me to feel like a normal person again, and then I only get two days with my family to have some inkling of a normal life. Let’s say we do break down nurses’ shifts into 8 hours. We will call these shifts 7am-3pm, 3pm-11pm, 11pm-7am. The 7am-3pm nurses would probably be satisfied with that shift. They could get off work and spend time with their families, make dinner, tend to their home, and have time to relax before they had to go to bed. The 3pm-11pm and 11pm-7am nurses would probably still be able to relax before bed, but would not be able to see their children or spouses, go out to dinner with their friends, or have any sort of a normal life because they would have to work these awful shifts five days a week to still be full time employees. Shortening our shifts to eight hours would also not eliminate fatigue. Many days I am exhausted before I even get to work because I get up early to see my family before I go in. Even if I do get to sleep late, I am typically only getting about 6 hours of sleep, because I still have to cook dinner, do laundry, and clean my house. You know, live a life. And if I actually go to work feeling rested? I’m exhausted after just the first three hours. The first three hours of my shift usually goes as follows: Huddle, get report, meet my patients, gather medications, call pharmacy for missing meds, take vital signs, assess pain, gather PRN medications for pain, nausea, or high blood pressure, administer medications to 6 patients (some of these patients having more than 10 medications), assess each patient, chart assessments, chart notes, call the physician for that one med that was overlooked on the admission, wound dressing changes, start new IVs, answer call lights for water, blankets, television channel changes, bedpans, urinals, etc. All before 11pm. And you still have hours left to do it all, over and over again.
The things we do and see are beyond what most could stomach. Many days I come home covered in the bodily fluids of people whom I’ve known for only 12 hours. Just this week I dropped a half-full urinal on my shoes when my hands were shaking because my blood sugar was low because- get this- I hadn’t had a break to eat. Another night this week it took me over an hour to eat a few baby carrots, grapes, and an apple, because every time I sat down (at the computer to chart, might I add, not even in the break room), another call light went off. We get peed on, pooped on, puked on, spat on, and disrespected. I’ve had feces thrown at me. A few weeks ago I worked a code and immediately afterwards had a patient yell at me because I took too long to bring her a warm blanket. If you knew what we go through, I would guess that you’d be a little more sympathetic.
After the chaos of the night has come to an end, I’m beat. My shoes come off at the door. My scrubs go immediately into the washing machine. I don’t want to spread germs all over my house, so I have to be careful. I get a shower and crawl into bed, exhausted, only to wake up and do it all over again. Because. I. Love. It.
Don’t judge our profession until you’ve walked a mile in our shoes. Make that 4.5 miles, because that’s how much I walked during my last shift.
Senator Walsh, screw you.
*Opinions are my own, not that of my employer.