A few years ago I worked at a hospital as a constant observer. It was a transitional job as I tried to figure out the next step of my life.What exactly is a constant observer? one might reasonably ask. A constant observer is basically a nurse’s aide who stays in one room to be with patients who might be a harm to themselves or others. Hospitals try very hard not to tie people down on their beds anymore. There are a lot of reasons I might be assigned to a patient: dementia, adverse reaction to medication, brain injury, detoxing, or suicide watch, to name some. I saw people at their most vulnerable state. This is the second in what I plan to be a series of vignettes on my experiences in the hospital.
The call light was on. Normally I was assigned to one room to care for a patient who might be a harm to themselves. But now I was on a wing of an understaffed department, assisting where I could. I ducked into the room to see how I could be of use.
“Hi, my name is Andy, and I’m one of the nurse aides on this floor. How can I help you?”
She looked surprised and frustrated (and maybe annoyed) to see me. Her nurse, a woman (the nurses are almost all women, that goes for nurse aides, too), had been in the room less than five minutes ago. The patient had just come out of surgery about a half hour ago. She looked to be in her mid-40s. The bed was uncomfortable. The instructions were for her to lie on her back, completely straight, for four hours and not to bend her leg. Her nurse had set the blood pressure cuff to measure her systolic and diastolic every fifteen minutes per usual post-op procedure. She had a peripheral IV of saline.
“How am I supposed to go to the bathroom?” A reasonable question.
A man at the bedside (her husband? her brother?) chimed in, “She’s not supposed to get up because of the surgery.”
“Oh, well, then you’ll have to use a bedpan. I’ll get one.” No one likes to use a bedpan.
I brought back a pan and a towel from the service center. I was trying to be a professional. Most of my experience with assisting toileting involved helping people who were out of it or elderly. She looked disapprovingly at me. I could tell she did not want me to help her pee. I didn’t really want to help her pee. But everyone else was busy. I didn’t want to have to ask anyone else to come to the room after I had answered the call light. I shifted my weight from one leg to the other. “Would you prefer that a woman assist you?”
“Yes.” She nodded.
The man looked at me as if I hadn’t even been an option.