Best of the Blog
As a mother and a nurse, I have often wondered whether to inform others in a health care setting that I am a nurse. I say this because it can go either way: some nurses consider it a blessing that they can easily explain things to you, while others may take it as a threat. And I understand these concerns. As a nurse I have come in contact with both attitudes—the helpful and the threatening—among family members and patients who work in health care. It can be helpful when they understand at least the basics and are eager to learn; on the other hand, it can be a nightmare when they say “I'm a nurse” as a kind of threat.
My story started about three years ago, a day my son's life would forever be changed, and mine with it. It was the spring of 2012 and my son was 12 years old. A stomach virus had recently swept through our house and sickened my son and his sisters. All three children were seen at the clinic for their symptoms. We were told it was viral and the normal treatment was hydration and waiting for the symptoms to resolve. My daughters’ health returned to normal, but my son remained sick. He continued to have episodes of nausea and vomiting over the three weeks that followed.
The day before he was to return to the clinic for a third visit, he came home from school crying and showed me his finger. He would sometimes bite his nails, and I saw that he had an infection alongside the nail bed on his thumb. Since he had his appointment in the morning, we placed warm compresses on his finger overnight.
On this visit, the NP suggested that his acid reflux might have returned and that this was why he continued vomiting. The first course of action, she said, should be a GI consult. But while my son had a history of acid reflux, he'd been off his medication for some time now, and his symptoms had resolved with age.
This visit was on a Thursday preceding the long Memorial Day weekend, and I felt I had to say something. I knew my son and I knew there was more to this than acid reflux. When I started to explain that I had concerns over my son's symptoms, the NP stopped me midsentence and said, “I know you're a nurse, and sometimes we tend to overreact and worry because we are nurses.” She knew I was a nurse because I work for the same health care system and it is flagged within the system that you are an employee.
Although it was upsetting to feel that nothing I said mattered, I renewed my effort to convey my concerns. I told her that he'd been drinking several liters of water a day, despite being a kid who almost never drank water. He was also voiding large amounts all through the night. But what I was most concerned about was that he'd had a 12-pound weight loss over the last few weeks. “I can feel every bump in his spine,” I told her, with tears in my eyes.
“Well,” the NP said at last, “we can check his urine for ketones.” My son gave them a urine sample to test, which immediately revealed high levels of ketones. They then did a spot check of his glycated hemoglobin level and found it was above 14. I'd been crying through all this. Now the NP looked at me and started to cry as well. With regret in her voice, she said she was sorry she hadn't listened to me earlier.
Then she called the physician into the room and everything happened quickly from that point on. We were rushed off to the hospital and my son was admitted. The education began for both of us on how to manage the lifelong condition of type 1 diabetes. Although as a mother I have learned a great deal about diabetes and insulin regimens and carb counting, I think my greatest lesson was as a nurse: to listen to other nurses when they are patients and family members and to recognize that they are not only nurses at that time. To listen to the symptoms they tell you about—not because they are nurses, but because they have experienced them or have witnessed them in their family members. As nurses, we need to support each other in all facets of life.