“Ask me.” It's a question being posed by a little badge now worn by nurses around the country. It seems harmless enough. At our little hospital, it means, “Ask me if I've washed my hands.” Seems like a reasonable and harmless question. Some places, it probably means, “Ask me if I have done my time-out,” or some other little administrative caution. It's one more little reminder to “do the right thing.”
We get a lot of those these days. For example, our insurance carrier sends us posters to put up, reminding us of all the things we need to do for every chest pain patient. Hospital bulletin boards have reminders for us all to be nice so we earn good patient satisfaction scores. I saw one that was designed to break down the steps of daily functioning for nurses who apparently don't know how to do much of anything. “Finish previous task. Think about what you'll need for next task and gather supplies. Clear your mind of all other thoughts and tasks. Focus on the job at hand. Breath. Blink. Step. Digest. Oooohmm.”
We probably do need some reminders. Medicine and nursing are increasingly complex endeavors. Hospitals and physicians seem to need more money than ever. Patients want their caregivers to be infallible, give cheaper care, and offer drive-thru medicine. Insurers are desperate not to be sued, and attorneys are watching our every move. The federal government is looking for fraud, and regulatory bodies are creating pages and pages of shiny new ideas. Most of us are happy just to get home to our families at day's end.
Everyone (else) seems to have at least one thing in common: the realization that no one is more highly trained, more vitally important, more lazy, and more dangerous than a bunch of doctors and nurses trying to take care of the sick and dying. Heck, we even forget to wash our hands! Under pressure to be all things to all people in America's emergency departments and hospitals, it's easy to forget things. We all do it, all of us nurses and physicians and paramedics and techs. We all become so swept up in hurrying and efficiency and error reduction that we could use some prompts. But then again, so could everyone else.
I was thinking. Maybe, as we do our time-outs and scrub our hands red, as we smile and get cups of ice and endure abuse with a smile, we could create our own “Ask Me” buttons. But let's ask some questions with a twist. How about some buttons that ask the things clinicians want to ask everyone else? How about these:
Ask me: If my opinion has ever been silenced with the threat of firing.
Ask me: How tired I am.
Ask me: If I'm depressed.
Ask me: How many holidays and birthdays I've missed with my children.
Ask me: If I'm addicted to caffeine or anything else.
Ask me: If my hands ever bleed from washing too often.
Ask me: How many times I saw someone last year who didn't pay my bill or even cared.
Ask me: About the last time another physician belittled me on the phone.
Ask me: If it's all that I hoped it would be.
Ask me: What I'd do if I could do anything in the world…other than this.
Ask me: How I feel when I pronounce one more person dead.
Ask me: If I'd recommend this job to anyone else.
Ask me: If I ever fell asleep driving home from nightshift and almost died.
Ask me: How many times I do someone else's job because they don't have to, but I do.
Ask me: About how compassionate I feel after five shifts or at the end of a night.
Ask me: If anyone has lied to me today.
Ask me: If ambulances and codes are as exciting now as they used to be.
Ask me: What it feels like to watch someone die and be helpless to stop it.
Ask me: If I think patient satisfaction scores are really accurate.
Ask me: If my own pain is a zero or a 10.
Ask me: How it felt to be sued.
Ask me: Anything except “How much longer?”
Ask me: How it felt to be assaulted, and have the hospital tell me to drop the charges.
Ask me: What I think about most doctors.
Ask me: What I feel about most chronic pain.
Ask me: How many people I think really need disability.
Ask me: For my views on the social welfare system.
Ask me: How deeply I am moved by the suffering of my truly suffering patients.
Ask me: If I'm still able to cry.
Ask me: How often I wonder when tragedy will strike my family.
Ask me: Instead of someone who doesn't actually see patients anymore.
Ask me: How I could fix the broken system.
Ask me: How many years, months, weeks, days, and hours until I can retire.
Ask me: If I've been treated fairly in my contract.
Ask me: Why my wife or husband left me.
Ask me: What my dearest dream is.
Ask me: What gives me hope.
Ask me: Why I still do it.
Ask me: If I ever allow myself to think I'm good enough.
Ask me: What I use to determine my worth.
Ask me: How my day is going, but mean it.
Ask me: Anything…but be prepared for the truth.
Never be afraid to ask.
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