The 24/7 Nurse

(AdvanceWeb) In the past weeks, there has been much discussion surrounding the nurse who allegedly denied an elderly woman CPR at an independent living center in California.  The 87 year old resident passed away while the nurse argued with a 911 dispatcher about the facility’s policy about (not) administering CPR.  The story has raised passionate debates, which float ubiquitously among major news casts and healthcare communities.  Though the woman may have been a licensed nurse, she was not practicing as one at the senior living center– and the facility had a rule:  no CPR was to be started by any employee for any resident.  The (lack of) action by this woman has raised an ethical question:  What is the responsibility of a nurse–not just as an institutional employee–but as an independent, licensed entity?

Living in NYC, I notice people every single day in desperate need of compassion, connection and care.  As one of the world’s largest cities (and, ironically, containing the most isolated people), I’ve been fortunate enough to experience my role as a nurse outside of my hospital job on a daily basis.   In my view, it is a nurse’s priority to connect with people, regardless of hospital policy.  Whether it be on the subway, the sidewalk, or at the grocery store, it is my responsibility to pay attention.  It is my chosen duty to take note of suffering and attempt to mediate it in whichever way I am able. This is my career.  Not a job.  Every single day.  Not just for the duration of my shift.  I must serve the patient’s of the world.  It may be simply an empathic smile to a despairing stranger.  It may mean giving up my taxi for a man looking desperate.  It may be helping a woman carry her stroller up the subway stairs during rush hour.  No matter how difficult the day has been, how utterly exhausted I feel, I must continue to be aware.  It is my lifetime responsibility, as a nurse, to help.

The point of the this recent event in California does not lay in the verdict of the case.  Whether the institution or the individual is fined is merely another legislative ruling.  The point, instead, is more pervasive.  The definition of nursing is at great risk.  If nurses are hindered by institutional protocols, unable to perform their duties as professionals, there will be more harm than good (the antithesis of the Hippocratic oath).  If nurses are not motivated and encouraged to take action, our whole profession will continue to suffer.  Nurses must be trained and empowered to take charge in emergency situations.  We live in turbulent times.  The world is filled with suffering.  In California, in Boston, and in the tiny town where you grew up, confident, courageous, assertive nurses are needed.  We need nursing schools and institutions to propagate these values.  After all, if we can’t act who else will?