Of Med Errors and Brain Farts

 

Glasses ink 2019 by Julianna Paradisi

Giving an Unfamiliar Medication

I read the physician’s order carefully, looked up the medication in the nurses’ drug book, and consulted with a pharmacist before I gave it. Afterward, while signing the medication administration record (MAR), I read the order again, and I did not see the same dose I had read the first time.

Accountability for My Actions

Immediately the blood in my feet rushed up to my ears and I was lost in pounding waves of white noise. Fuck, fuck, fuck, I made a med error, and it’s a serious one! Of course, I didn’t say these words out loud. Instead, I carried the patient’s chart and the empty, pre-filled syringe to the nurses’ station. Putting them in front of the charge nurse I said, I think I just made a med error, a bad one. Look at the order and the syringe label. Tell me what I’ve done.

Relief: The Patient was Safe

She stopped what she was doing. 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 in my ears subsided into the gentle lapping of my breathing. Another nurse came to my side saying, I know exactly what you’re feeling.

I felt relief. My patient was safe. It was an unfamiliar medication. That’s why I read the order carefully, looked it up, and consulted with the pharmacist. The only explaination I have for my confusion after giving the dose is that I had a brain fart. Somehow my eyes and my brain disconnected after giving the medication, and the order unexplainably failed to make sense. That’s the best I can come up with: a brain fart.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

Later, my coworkers told me their stories of making med errors. We all make them. I didn’t know that when I was a new grad.

It is unbelievable to me as I type this, but it is true: in nursing school  I had an instructor who told our class that she had never in her thirty year career, ever made a medication error. Never. And I was young, and shiny, and idealistic enough to believe her. Seriously, I did. So when I made a medication error during the first couple months of my new-grad job, I was sure that I was not cut out for nursing. At that time, my coworkers didn’t gather around offering support like they did recently. No, I was written up, and had to call the pediatrician and tell him I had forgotten to hang a dose of ampicillin. He was more sympathetic than the day shift charge nurse back then. I made other medication errors too, nothing serious, but enough to consider quitting nursing during my first six months of practice.

Nurses Supporting Nurses

Then I met one of the best nurses I have had the pleasure to work with. For some reason, she decided to mentor me. I confided to her that I considered quitting nursing, because I made med errors, and that my instructor never had.  She laughed. If that instructor of yours never made a med error, then I’m thinking she’s too dumb to catch them. You are so crazy. Let me tell you about med errors… She was a great nurse, not a perfect one.

Eventually I gained the confidence needed to stay in nursing these past thirty-three years. I still make mistakes from time to time. I take responsibility for them. I learn from them. I am compassionate towards my coworkers when it happens to them. Nursing is not a risk-free profession.

And sometimes I have brain farts.

This post was originally published on January 30,  2011. I feel reposting it may be beneficial for nurses new to my blog. It has been updated. 

New Post for AJN’s Off the Charts Contemplates Nurses Missing Time with Our Families Because of Work

My latest post and illustration for Off the Charts, the blog of the American Journal of Nursing is posted. Heralding in the holiday season, it’s a contemplation of missing celebrations and family events when the needs of our patients require it.

This Halloween Teal and Blue are The New Orange for Parents of Children With Food Allergies, Autism 🎃

Autism and Food Allergies Awareness at Halloween

Blue Pumpkin Bucket with Teal Pumpkin watercolor and ink by Julianna Paradisi 2019

This Halloween, Teal and Blue are the new orange for parents of children with food allergies, and autism.

Recently, I learned of two newish movements that merit recognition for championing the health and happiness of children while trick or treating. Both choose pumpkins of different shades of blue to alert the public to their causes.

Teal Pumpkins Help Children with Food Allergies Participate in Halloween Fun

How difficult Halloween must be for parents of children with food allergies! Imagine taking your favorite Disney character or Marvel superhero trick or treating, only to remove almost the entire loot from their buckets or bags at home, because most trick or treat candies contain allergens like dairy products, peanuts, dyes, etc. It must be heartbreaking to have to explain to your child again why they can’t eat the same goodies other kids do.

The Teal Pumpkin Project offers an inclusive alternative for children with food allergies at Halloween. By placing a teal pumpkin outside your door, you signal to children with food allergies and their parents that you are giving out non-food items for treats. The website creates neighborhood maps of homes offering non-food item treats, and you can add your home. Or, simply paint a real pumpkin from a pumpkin patch or grocery store teal, and put it on your doorstep or windowsill.

Here’s a list of inexpensive non-food items from their website:

Glow sticks, bracelets, or necklaces
Pencils, pens, crayons or markers
Bubbles
Halloween erasers or pencil toppers
Mini Slinkies
Whistles, kazoos, or noisemakers
Bouncy balls
Finger puppets or novelty toys
Coins
Spider rings
Vampire fangs
Mini notepads
Playing cards
Bookmarks
Stickers
Stencils

They do caution that some modeling clay products may contain wheat, and avoid products with latex. Age appropriateness and avoiding choking hazards should also be considered.

Blue Halloween Pumpkin Buckets: Be considerate of children, teenagers, and young adults with Autism enjoying Halloween

This Halloween, you may notice children, teenagers, and young adults carrying blue plastic pumpkin buckets. This became a thing last year when a mother wrote a social media post that went viral, asking people to please not require her non-verbal three year-old to say, “Trick or Treat!” to receive candy. She went on to explain that Halloween can be an engaging social event for children, teenagers, or young adults with autism, so be considerate of those who don’t respond verbally, or appear to be a bit “old” for trick or treating. This is good advice even if a person isn’t carrying a blue Halloween pumpkin bucket, because by showing kindness to strangers some have entertained angels unawares.

Blue pumpkin candy buckets can be purchased online.

Celebrations are more enjoyable when no one is left out. I’m grateful for opportunities to make Halloween activities fun for all.

 

 

 

Normal Is a Cycle on the Washing Machine

In my mind, as long as the weather is good, summer isn’t over. However, the beginning of the new school year, and the return of football indicates that ritual outweighs my imagination.

Sigh.

It’s good to let an imagination run free from time to time, so I took the summer mostly off from blogging.

Preparing paintings for display. Image and paintings by jparadisi 2014

Preparing paintings for display. Image and paintings by jparadisi 2014

I’m back.

I think there’s a tendency to view creative work as less taxing, dare I say less challenging, than nursing. I wouldn’t say less, so much as different: Different types of knowledge, different sets of skills. The biggest difference, I think, lies in accountability. Harsh criticism of their work can damage an artist’s psyche.Missing a deadline for a post or art exhibition is unprofessional and negatively affects the editors and curators writers and artists work with. It leaves them in the lurch, which in turn negatively impacts the artist’s career.

In nursing, however, medication errors can seriously impact a patient’s health, with potential life-changing consequences for patient and nurse.

I discovered something this summer: Taking time off from creative projects creates a vacuum into which other projects, out of nowhere, are sucked in, filling the “free” time I worked so hard to create. I see this phenomenon in the lives of the retired too. In fact, I often tell my Mom, “You’re scaring me; retirement looks twice as busy as working life, without the paycheck.”

Mom just smiles, and says, “Remember, ‘normal’ is a cycle on the washing machine. Don’t wait for things to slow down. They won’t.”

She’s right.

An unexpected project close to my heart this summer was the opportunity to hang my paintings and monotype (one of a kind) prints in a health care setting. It is a very satisfying experience to work with a design team to select and hang art with the intention of improving patient experience. In the past, I’ve sat on selection committees choosing artists for hospital art commissions, but this was my first experience as the selected artist.

For me, it came together when a patient, unaware that I am the artist, made this remark about the art, “It makes me think of other things than why I’m here.”

Bingo. That’s exactly the result I was looking for.

The Adventures of Nurse Niki is back too. The latest episode, At The Raleigh, posted Monday.

Summer vacation brought fresh insights, generating posts for AJN’s Off the Charts. In a drop-in life drawing studio I drew a connection between art and nursing. A road trip with my husband inspired this post. And a close call with danger inspired yet another.

Normal is just a cycle on the washing machine.

 

 

 

Where Science, Humanity and Art Converge

JParadisiRN blog began by discussing art and nursing. For the most part it remains so, through observations of the way science, humanity, and art converge, transferring these observations into blog posts.

Nursing is a tactile profession, at least when practiced at the bedside. It’s difficult to do the work of a nurse without actually touching people. Nurses learn that some skin or veins are so tough they almost repel an IV catheter, while other types are so fragile, even the paper tape used to secure a dressing or IV can easily tear it.

Nurses bathe the newborn’s firm, plump flesh, or rub lotion into the loose, wrinkled flesh of the elderly to prevent its breakdown. We measure and weigh the under and overweight, then calculate body surface area to administer the correct dose of chemotherapy.

This summer, I enrolled in an open life drawing studio. A model sits for a few hours, while artists, in meditative silence, draw the human body on paper.

Drawing is also a tactile experience: holding charcoal against toothed paper, making shapes and lines into limbs and torso, adding shadow to give them volume.

Patients and models allow nurses and artists into the sacred space of their nakedness. This privilege demands respect. Administering nursing care to a patient, or capturing the model’s likeness on paper requires concentration, skill, and love of humanity.

 

New Post: The Art of Nursing

May is all warm and fuzzy with Nurse’s Week. May renews love for what my mentor once dubbed “The noblest of professions.” May also marks the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. I am a fan of Nightingale, her work, her integrity, and her devotion to nursing’s science.

 

The Art of Nursing by jparadisi

The Art of Nursing by jparadisi

So, please, don’t misunderstand when I say there is a quote by Nightingale from 1868 in which I find the tiniest flaw:

 Nursing is an art; and if it is to be made an art, requires as exclusive a devotion, as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or cold marble compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s Spirit? Nursing is one of the fine arts; I had almost said, the finest of the fine arts.”

The troublesome part for me is describing “canvas or cold marble” as “dead.” As an artist, I tell you that there is no such thing as a dead canvas or sculptor’s stone. Yes, both are inanimate objects — no disagreement there. But anyone putting brush to canvas or chisel to stone knows that an interaction occurs between the artist and the medium. Writers know that a blank page stares back in judgmental and deafening silence. Art is a result of the interaction between the medium and the artist. As an art student, I once told an instructor, “I just want what I paint to look like what I see in my head.” Sympathetically, she replied, “That’s what all artists want. It never happens.”

Michelangelo said it best:

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

The personality of a canvas, stone, or blank page is manifested by its grain (tooth), flaws, and innate characteristics. Artists do not simply impose their will on canvas or stone. Art is the interaction between the artist and the medium.

So what does any of this have to do with nursing?

The art of nursing lies within a broader spectrum of skills than IV starts, and medication administration. It requires a nurse to discover the unique characteristics of each patient asking for help. Nurses chisel away at fear, pain, and grief to reveal a patient’s inner strengths and natural resiliency. We hold up a mirror, so our patients can see the beauty of the human spirit that we uncover.

Like canvas or stone, some patients are resistant to brush or chisel. Through devotion to our craft, we adapt our nursing skills to the realities of their character. Artists and nurses know a vision cannot be impressed upon a unreceptive surface, so we do what we can, knowing the result may fall short of our vision.

The nurse’s art, much like that of an artist or sculptor, utilizes the naturally occurring strengths and flaws in patients to create beauty from potential. The art exists within this interaction.

Happy Nurses Week!

Nurses and Holiday Stress

Painting by jparadisi

Painting by jparadisi

Nursing potentiates normal holiday stressors. For many nurses, the beauty of the winter holidays is diminished by feelings of stress.

Staffing woes contribute: Who knows why every year during the holidays, patient census randomly explodes abundantly or trickles down to near nothing, resulting in too much overtime or hours-deficient paychecks?

We go home to enjoy the glow of Christmas tree lights knowing our patients spend their holidays in a hospital or hospice bed, their rooms lit by overhead fluorescent lights, and this knowledge dampens a nurse’s ability to fully enjoy celebrations of bounty. We may experience feelings of guilt that our income is dependent on the misfortune of others, in this case, illness or trauma.

Mismatched schedules, especially those of night-shift nurses, complicate holiday arrangements with family. Gift giving weighs heavily on sensitive souls: Instead of buying gifts, shouldn’t the money be given to those in need? Or are our expressions of love for family and friends, the creation of memories and traditions left after our own health fails, equally important? Someday, we will become the ones missing from the family dinner table of Christmas’s future.

Here are suggestions for handling holiday stress:

  • Reduce expectations. Holiday preparations and gifts are expressions of love, not declarations of wealth. Stay within your physical and fiscal boundaries.
  • Plan quick, easy, and low-calorie meals in between holiday parties. You’ll feel better.
  • Enlist the help of children with holiday baking and food preparation. This is an opportunity to teach them to cook while spending time together.
  • Lighten your housework load by asking children to help with age-appropriate tasks like dusting, folding clothes, drying dishes, etc. Work out a payment incentive with them. Encourage them to use the money for Christmas shopping, to buy a toy for a less fortunate child, or donate to a food bank.
  • Plan downtime and use it for activities with personal meaning. Don’t skip yoga class or your morning run. Take a break from wrapping gifts for a cup of fragrant hot tea or cocoa with marshmallows. Spend an hour at church, take a long walk, or meditate to regain your sense of grounding.
  • Remember the gifts you give. Nurses give to their patients throughout the year gifts that cannot be remunerated on a paycheck. Although we do not have magic wands to cure disease, taking time to listen and help patients with their needs goes a long way. The best way to feel better is to help someone else feel better. This is the gift of nursing.

Does your nursing job ever affect your ability to enjoy the holidays? What steps do you take to reduce holiday stress?

For The Nurse on Your Holiday List: A “Shift From Hell” Emergency Kit

As if the onslaught of commercials isn’t enough to remind us, the winter holiday season has begun. For nurses, whose patients always seem to worsen, or expire, around the holidays, jumbled feelings of anxiety and guilt may arise.

‘Tis the season to practice extra strength self-care and creative gift giving!

If you need an idea for an inexpensive holiday gift for a preceptor, mentor, student, or that special nurse buddy who always has your back, here’s an idea: Give him or her a Shift From Hell emergency kit for their locker or fanny pack. The contents will vary with your own creative ideas, but here are some suggestions gleaned from my 25 + years of bedside nursing:

  • Nail clippers: for fixing a broken or snagged nail
  • An emery board: see above
  • A pair of tweezers — for wayward eyebrow or nasal hairs
  • A package of toothpicks: Does anyone share my irrational fear of food stuck in my teeth?
  • A small package of antacids: They can mean the difference between leaving a shift early or staying to finish it
  • A travel-size package of ibuprofen or acetaminophen for unexpected headaches and minor pain
  • A laundry detergent pen or wipes to remove betadine, coffee, or blood stains from scrubs and lab coats before they set.
  • Lip balm — For those shifts when you don’t have time to drink enough fluids
  • Change for the vending machine — particularly useful on the night shift
  • Gum or breath mints
  • A hair tie as back-up for the one you wore to work that broke
  • A cheap pair of reading glasses: because who can read that tiny print on single dose medication vials?
  • Packages of fancy instant coffee, a fragrant tea, or cocoa — for when you finally get a moment to sit down
  • Chocolate

Remember to keep the supplies miniature. Collect them into a cloth drawstring bag, coffee mug, or Mason jar. Those cosmetic bags you get as a “gift with purchase” from department stores work, too. Add a bow and gift tag: voilà!

If you prefer a gift for your unit while maintaining a budget, consider buying larger amounts of the supplies, and place them in a basket lined with tissue paper or gift straw, as a group gift available in the staff lounge.

What items do you consider essential items for a nurse’s Shift From Hell?

Simon’s Turn: The Adventures of Nurse Niki Chapter 21

The Adventures of Nurse Niki
The Adventures of Nurse Niki

The Adventures of Nurse Niki Chapter 21 is posted! In this week’s episode, Simon’s Turn, Niki experiences a life-changing moment.

The Adventures of Nurse Niki is a work of serial fiction. The blog is formatted so the most recent episodes appear at the top. New readers not wanting spoilers of The Adventures of Nurse Niki may begin at Chapter 1 and scroll up from there.  Chapters are archived by month (click on the lined square icon on the home page). New chapters post weekly on Thursdays.

Off the Charts has this to say about The Adventures of Nurse Niki:

This blog is made up entirely of first-person episodes told by a fictional nurse named Niki. Each episode is short, detailed, and engaging, and it’s easy to keep up with it on a regular basis, or quickly catch up if you haven’t yet read any episodes. Jacob Molyneux, AJN senior editor/blog editor

Kevin Ross, aka @InnovativeNurse wrote a review of The Adventures of Nurse Niki, with this highlight:

Julianna has embarked on something special for the nursing community. The Adventures Of Nurse Niki is one of the most intelligent perspectives of life as a nurse. These are the experiences of a “real nurse” if you ask me. Nurse Niki is a smart and dynamic character who works night shift in the PICU at a California hospital. A good television show or fiction novel could certainly draw out the sexiness of working in the ICU, but with Niki’s story we quickly discover that this dynamic character is also struggling to cope with life at the bedside, and as a mother and wife. Hidden within each chapter the discovery is that Nurse Niki is in fact you. She’s me. Well that is of course if I was a woman.

You can interact with Niki on The Adventures of Nurse Niki’s  Facebook page. Please don’t forget to “Like” it too. Show Niki some love! Thank YOU!! to the readers following The Adventures of Nurse Niki, the retweets of  @NurseNikiAdven (Hashtag #NurseNiki) and those who not only Like Nurse Niki’s Facebook Fan Page. The support is very much appreciated!

Rolling Out Changes So Nurses Aren’t Under a Rock

I was about to administer a chemotherapy infusion. The carboplatin dose was double-checked by a co-worker. First, she calculated the patient’s GFR and then the AUC (area under the curve). 

Area Under the Curve by jparadisirn

Area Under the Curve by jparadisirn

Independently, I calculated the GFR and then calculated the AUC using the carboplatin dose calculator I found on the hospital’s online resource. Following those directions, I plugged in the patient’s GFR, serum creatinine, weight, height, etc. My coworker and I came up with the same answer. Whew.

When the IV bag of carboplatin arrived from pharmacy, we reviewed the bag’s label against our calculations, completing the double check. Holy moley! The dose in the IV bag was different from our calculation. The process stopped while I made a phone call to the pharmacist. Here’s what I learned:

“We cap the serum creatinine value at 0.8 and the GFR at 125. Your patient’s creatinine is 0.6, which increases the GFR above the cap. The dose is based on the capped values.”

“Oh,” I replied.

This is what the FDA says about carboplatin dosing:

Based on preliminary communications with the National Cancer Institute/Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program, a potential safety issue with carboplatin dosing has been identified. By the end of 2010, all clinical laboratories in the US will use the new standardized Isotope Dilution Mass Spectrometry (IDMS) method to measure serum creatinine. The IDMS method appears to underestimate serum creatinine values compared to older methods when the serum creatinine values are relatively low (e.g., ~0.7 mg/dL). Measurement of serum creatinine by the IDMS-method could result in an overestimation of the Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) in some patients with normal renal function. If the total carboplatin dose is calculated based on IDMS-measured serum creatinine using the Calvert formula, carboplatin dosing couldbe higher than desired and could result in increased drug-related toxicity.

I must have been under a rock when this happened. Using the capped values, we recalculated the same dose as in the IV bag. I administered the carboplatin. Problem solved — or is it?

Afterward, I vaguely recalled an email from pharmacy sometime last year (or maybe it was a few months ago?) explaining the change in carboplatin dosing. That was the entire rollout of this information. Did in-patient nurses receive more information or an in-service? I don’t know.

I applaud pharmacy for initiating a best-practice in medication dosing. I also feel that a significant change such as this requires more than an informal email, and I suspect this happens often to nurses working in hospitals.

Nurses are expected to assess a patient’s understanding of the education we provide. Likewise, significant changes in clinical practice should be coordinated across departments, using nurse educators and managers to assess their nurses’ awareness and understanding.

Have you had similar experiences missing crucial information that was informally communicated?