Question From A Young Nurse: But What About The Feelings?

A Young Nurse asked Auntie Jo for advice this week. Poor, deluded Young Nurse.

Our correspondent asked this: "What do I do when a doctor or older nurse snickers at an answer I give to a question, or takes me aside later and tells me that I should've done something different? I have six patients, and I'm new to the night shift. I can't keep everything straight all the time. I want to kill them. What should I do?"

Dear Young Nurse,

We were all there, once. Those of us who got over it became the sort of nurse that your Auntie Jo is. Right now, I have a cat rubbing on my shoulder, a cold beer to the right of the keyboard, a happy dog frolicking in the back yard, and a list of men who want to be seen with me.

Those of us who didn't get over it became the doctor and nurse you're working with.

Practically, what you can do is this: Do what residents do. At the start of your shift, make out index cards that have each patient's name on them in big, bold lettering, so you can't miss it. On those cards, write the essential lab results and neuro/cardio/gastric/renal changes the patients have during the shift. Update them as you need to. That way, if you're ever caught out by a question, you can yank your index cards out of your pocket (be sure to wear scrubs with pockets at the waist) and answer the question quickly.

Doctors *love* it when you do things that they did as residents. It makes them feel very smart, and they will treat you better as a result.

As for the nurse: be humble. Shrug things off with a "Well, I'm still learning. Someday I'll have all that stuff on the tip of my tongue, like you do!" Make sure your back is turned when you roll your eyes. Mean nurses love that sort of thing, even as it makes them wonder if they're really *that* decent of people (answer: No, you're not, and you're going straight to a flaming-hot Hell when you die).

But what about the feelings?

It is hard, and I acknowledge that it's hard, not to reach out gently and wrap your scrawny little hands around somebody's neck. As The Bloggess once said, "A hug is just a strangle you haven't finished yet." I would suggest that you find a nice, private place to feel those feelings.

Feeling something like rage or disappointment doesn't mean you have to act on it. It just means that you've opened the door marked "RAGE" or "DISAPPOINTMENT" and have gone in and browsed through the goods on offer. It's best to do it in private so you're not interrupted. Rage, rage, against the asshole nurse or doctor who decided to get his or her rocks off by humiliating you. Then set it aside.

Resolve that next time you'll be so bulletproof that you'll embarrass them without meaning to. Resolve that next time you'll have the perfect l'esprit d'escalier and won't forget to say something like "up yours, motherfucker" when it's warranted.

Resolve--and this is both the most difficult and most important thing--that you won't let this make you think less of yourself or your practice. Some people are just assholes. Instead of bundling the urge to finish the hug up inside yourself, practice letting it out in the car.

All you can do is the best you can do. Be prepared, be on point, and if things don't go your way, don't fret: you've done your best. Believe it or not, your best doesn't have to be perfect. This is a twenty-four hour a day job. Self-doubt is a killer, because the minute you doubt yourself, you start doubting that little voice in your gut that tells you something ain't right.

If all else fails, Talisker. It's a good Scotch for beginners.