With all the patient-centered care that we do, how much time and effort do we spend to take care of ourselves and our co-workers? The idea for this topic came to me recently, as there were two incidents of used insulin needles that a co-worker (the same one I think) did not dispose of properly, both within the same week. Both needles were left inside the small zip pouches that hold the blood sugar meter and testing strips. We use these all the time without expecting a used needle to be hiding inside. The first one resulted in a co-worker getting a needle stick, and the second one I found myself. I am so grateful that I did not get a needle-stick, but I am still sick to my stomach for my co-worker who did, as she has to undergo lab testing for HIV, hepatitis, and SGPT, along with the worry about potentially becoming infected, especially since the patient that the needle was used on has a past lifestyle of great potential exposure.
What is especially disturbing about this incident, in addition to the hardship this situation has caused for my co-worker who got the needle-stick, is the workplace environment where this occurred. A few months ago I took this part time position as the weekend supervisor in what I consider a luxury assisted living community. Many of my past RN jobs have been in stressful facilities that were less than pleasant, to put it nicely, so I was really excited and relieved to be hired for the supervisory position that has such a lovely environment and pleasant people to be around – both co-workers and Residents of the community. To be honest, I would have expected the careless incidents of used insulin needles being left out to be more likely to happen in the facilities of my past jobs, where conditions were mostly overwhelmed, short staffed and deteriorating. I’ve been working in healthcare for the past 25 years, and the only time a co-worker got a needle-stick was when they themselves were in a rush or overwhelmed and stuck themselves by accident, but never because a co-worker was careless and didn’t dispose of it properly. The work environment of my current job is just the opposite–pleasant and lovely, well-appointed amenities and no lack of financial resources. So I keep asking myself how this happened here, in a much more relaxed environment, especially twice in one week.
The answer is…I don’t know. I do know however, that I want to be sure that all nurses are safe at work. Of course, I brought the issue to the attention of the administrator but was surprised that there was no apparent action to follow up. My own action has been to remind my staff to not only be extra careful with all waste materials; but that we, as nurses, deserve the same high level of care for ourselves and each other that we devote to our patients. Somehow this idea seemed to be met with some resistance. When I spoke about this issue of taking better care of ourselves and each other to my team, one of them had the response that essentially she wasn’t important enough to spend the extra effort to take good care of herself–only the patients/resident deserved that.
I believe that all nurses should also be caring for nurses. This means caring for ourselves and caring for our co-workers. We do deserve it! This means watching out for each other’s safety with equipment and waste materials, or checking in to see if help is needed. We are valuable souls who do good work each day. Many nurses do take good care of their health by eating well and exercising regularly, which definitely makes them better equipped for success at work; but I want to stress the importance of taking care of ourselves while we are at work, not just after we clock out. For some reason many of us accept the physical and emotional hardships that come from the profession, but in this way of thinking we are not necessarily providing the best patient care either. How can you really be focused with an overflowing bladder? I say to nurses, ” Everything will be OK, even if you go…to…the…bathroom!”
My brief thoughts on how this mind-set that many nurses have about the lack of self-care at work, stem from the beginning of the nursing profession itself being created out of struggle and sacrifice, then the struggle and sacrifice it takes to get through nursing school, then to pass the NCLEX, get a job and finally to be successful in a job that is often in a stressful work environment. Many nurses have worked diligently for years to gain more respect and support for this profession. I hope to encourage all nurses to stand strong on your hard-earned education and experience, sacrifice and perseverance, to help steer the profession in a direction of not only more respect for the profession of nursing, but also for nurses as individuals.