Nurses Make Birthdays, One Year at a Time

by jparadisi

by jparadisi

Part of our institution’s medication administration policy is asking patients to state their name and birth date, scrutinizing the information against the medication label. Patients of a certain age, more women than men, customarily wince while saying the year in which they were born. Often they say, “I’m getting so old.”

Perhaps it’s none of my business to respond, but as a cancer survivor and an oncology nurse, I can’t seem to help it. This reply escapes my mouth with hardly a thought in between: “That’s what we do here. We help you grow old, one birthday at a time. That’s why you and I are here.”

It always gets a laugh, and more often than not a, “Well, I suppose you’re right. That is what we’re doing here, isn’t it?”

Like many things in life, the ability to enjoy growing old is a matter of perspective.

It’s a funny world we live in. People bemoan their birthdays and growing old; yet endure chemotherapy and procedures, fighting to add years to lives threatened by disease.

I don’t love the effects of aging on my body. I color my hair to hide the gray. I exercise and eat right, and avoid over indulging in things that destroy a body’s ability to maintain its health. But these things enhance life, they do not prevent the inevitable. I know my days are limited. I know some day I will cease to exist in the manner I do now.

You may feel depressed by reading this post, but I say to you, knowing that life is finite is the most freeing of all thoughts. It bestows the gift of living everyday to the fullest, to make choices honoring integrity, and loving relationships. Life is too short to dwell in unhappiness. This is the least that nurses can do to honor the memory of the patients we have known and lost: live life as if each day were the last.

And, yes, I will take another slice of that birthday cake.

Advice for Administering Medications with Narrow Safety Margins

I read the order carefully, looked up the medication, and consulted with a pharmacist before giving it. Signing the medication administration record (MAR), I re-read the order. I did not see the same dose I read the first time.

by jparadisi

by jparadisi

Immediately, the blood rushed up from my feet to my ears, and I was lost in pounding waves of white noise. I made a med error! A serious one! I didn’t say these words out loud. Instead, I placed the patient’s chart and the empty, pre-filled syringe in front of the charge nurse. “I think I just made a med error — a bad one. Look at the order and the syringe. What did I do?” She read the order and examined the syringe. “You gave the right dose. You didn’t make a med error. Now breathe.” The pounding breakers of white noise subsided into the gentle lapping of my breathing.

Medication errors are potentially heart stopping: figuratively for nurses, verily for patients. ICU  and Oncology nurses have the added stress of routinely administering medications with  narrow safety margins to patients willingly offering their venous access. Further, neonatal and pediatric nurses have patients with less tolerance to any medication or fluid error than their adult counterparts.

While all nurses make medication errors, our goal is to develop strategies to avoid them:

  • Always check chemotherapy or any high risk medication orders beyond the five rights of medication administration. Our oncology services have standardized the double check into a checklist developed from the ONS Safe Handling of Chemotherapy and Biotherapies Handbook. It includes monitoring lab values, confirming appropriate regimen, lifetime dose (if applicable), calculating the correct volume of medication in solution, and more.
  • Don’t rely on memory: Look it up. Pharmacists are also a resource.
  • Consult with more experienced nurses, but don’t rely on their memory either. Look it up.
  • Do not allow interruptions during a medication check. This is not a time for multitasking.
  • Maintain current chemotherapy or other applicable education.

Despite precautions, errors will still occur. Owning and learning from them is the quickest way to move past a bad experience. Supporting a culture of safety in the workplace increases rates of both error reporting and prevention. Colleagues should extend support to one another.

Does your institution have a “culture of safety”? What advice would you add about error prevention? What experiences would you share?

The Pathology of Patient Safety

Antique Steam Engine (It Still Works) photo: jparadisi

The other day I said something I regretted while giving a medication during a procedure. Before giving the med, I verified the dose, and patient’s name against the signed and dated physician’s order and the medication label. I checked the volume and rate of administration. Then I said something stupid: I apologized for my “perfectionism” to the patient and the physician, demonstrated by performing The Five Rights of Medication Administration:

  1. The Right Patient
  2. The Right Medication
  3. The Right Dose
  4. The Right Route
  5. The Right Time

My apology struck me as handmaiden-like behavior.  So, I said out loud what I was thinking: “When did doing something the right way become “perfectionism”? Shouldn’t performing safety procedure be the bare minimum standard of health care?” The physician gave quick and sincere agreement in answer to my question. He wasn’t annoyed by the small delay; he appreciated it. So did our patient.

So why did I apologize in the first place? I am offended when I hear nurses label coworkers as “perfectionists” or even “OC,” for taking the time to insure the five rights of medication administration or follow any safety policy governing patient care. It is the perception of these nurses that this behavior slows down the flow of patient care. When did looking up and following safety policies become pathology, the behavior of a disease? David says it occurred when “Right Now” was added to the Five Rights of medication administration.