“Don’t let it happen again,” said Marianna Crane, my nurse practitioner friend. I could hear the disbelief in her voice.
Marianna and I share a history of graduating from diploma schools of nursing in the early sixties. At that time, a visible hierarchy existed in health care. Doctors were treated like gods. And, even though Marianna and I attended nursing schools many states apart, we were instructed to give up our seats for doctors when they entered the nurses’ station, to stand aside and let them get on and off elevators before we did, and to silently endure whatever tantrum they decided to have on any particular day.
Over the years, the situation has changed. Not as much as some would like, but doctors and nurses now work more collaboratively than in our days of nurses’ training. But, as a result of the years enduring a subordinate role, we share a healthy resentment for doctors that still see themselves as gods. As for me, with those early beratings1 imprinted on my psyche, every doctor in my life has had to earn my respect before I accorded it.
So, when I was talking across the miles to Marianna, I was telling her about a probably once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. On one of my many visits to my internist for my now months-long history of itching, just as he was leaving the room, I said, from my perch on the end of the exam table, “I have something to say that I’ve never said before.”
He turned from the doorway and looked at me. I swallowed. “You’d NEVER have caught me saying this before, but today I’m happy to be JUST a nurse.” His face stayed one of concern as he gave a gentle wave and left the room.
There, I had said it. JUST a nurse. In all my twenty years of teaching nursing, I had preached to my students to NEVER say I’m JUST a student and, in my twenty years of practice before that, to my colleagues to NEVER say I’m JUST a nurse. I had a strong basis for saying this, of course, and, if they questioned me, I would remind them of the rigor and years of study required to become a nurse.
So JUST was a word that JUST wasn’t in my vocabulary. But on that day in my internist’s office, I had come to a complete blank about whatever it was that was causing my body to continue itching. I had exhausted search words and websites. I had exhausted my run of specialists and alternative treatments. I had exhausted trying prescription and over-the-counter medications.
You might say I was JUST exhausted, too exhausted to be thinking clearly. But I know I was thinking clearly, and I was thankful for his listening to me these many months, taking my multiple concerns seriously, trying to help me feel better, replying promptly to my many emails, and never talking down to me or sounding paternalistic.
As anyone suffering from a chronic illness that invades their life and lifestyle knows, when you find a doctor that meets your needs, you are thankful. So I can excuse myself for saying I am “just a nurse.” I am a fortunate nurse who found a doctor I can respect. A doctor who exemplifies the therapeutic communication skills I used to teach my nursing students and expect to experience with all health care professionals.
Now, if you think I’m getting a bit sappy, sometime soon I’ll tell you about unpleasant experiences I’ve had in the past with doctors in my quest for relief from fibromyalgia. Stay tuned. And if you have a story, negative or positive, to add, please do!
1 I have documented several of these “beratings” in Caring Lessons.