Ebola is upon us, its official, because everyone is officially freaking out.
On the one hand, it is no surprise that a nurse was the first to contract the virus here on American soil given the hands on, prolonged contact, fluid ridden role we play in health care. Globally, nurses have been on the front lines of this virus for months, often the first infected. In fact, in Liberia, the astounding number of nurses who fell ill resulted in a large impact of the ability to treat and maintain the illness in the cities of a country whose health care system is so much less secure than our own. Imagine the staffing grids over there right now!
But I digress. My point is, that it is no surprise that one of our own was the first to test positive in America. But I have to admit; my initial response was one of dejected disappointment. This feeling was only increased as story after story flooded my news feed and twitter account of the need to identify the “breach in protocol” that caused her to contract the potentially deadly virus. Story after story, person after person, made it sounds more and more like a search for her mistake. I was angry that she was being blamed. I was sad for her that she was sick and also for the position she has been placed in, thrust into the spotlight of fearful masses and frustrated health care professionals. I was sad for nurses.
And then two things happened. First, physicians apparently spoke out in her defense, scolding the CDC for publicly shaming her through their outspoken investigation into the “breach” that occurred. You see, to those of us in health care, this investigation is routine. Each of our mistakes and near misses are examined in the same way. Not with a goal to shame the professional, but to improve the system. What the articles failed to mention was that these occurrences are normal. There is no doubt that an investigation is necessary, but fearful masses can’t hear that sort of rational statement without making it something it isn’t. The first response to fear is often a search to find a source for blame. So thank you, to the physicians who spoke out against the CDC’s (I hope) inadvertent statements of mistakes and subsequent blame rather than their goal to improve policy and procedure.
The second thing was a friend’s statement yesterday, about how often we are faced with the choice to don our PPE or save our patient. That the focus should have been on her willingness to put herself at risk, the unfortunate result being her own illness rather than that of a mistake, of her responsibility of putting herself, maybe even others in jeopardy. (Thanks Beth, you’re awesome). How often have you run into a room for emergent suctioning, or God forbid chest compressions, the mask in your hand instead of fully onto your face until you’re part way into the room? Don’t get me wrong, the stakes here, with a virus like Ebola are higher, and we will respond accordingly when it comes to safety and PPE. But the reality is that PPE isn’t perfect, somewhere between application and removal, prolonged contact in a room, emergent needs, etc., mistakes can happen, mistakes will happen.
The most important thing I realized in what my friend Beth said was this, we are in this together. And we need to start acting that way. So instead of sharing your fears, educate yourself about the real facts of the virus. Instead of standing by while people talk about what she may have done wrong, support her. Thank the nurses you work with for continually putting their health at risk for their patient’s, for the fact that they will continue to do so. Stop sharing articles on your social media accounts from uneducated, unreliable sources. Don’t perpetuate the fear everyone is feeling. If you’re looking for someone to blame, take your pointed finger down and wash it. Then wash it again.
And as you’re doing that, send some get-well wishes to a bad a** nurse we should all start looking up to. Because if an Ebola patient rolls into your unit tomorrow, will you be volunteering to have them in your assignment?
Get well soon Nina Pham. You sure aren’t Just a Nurse.
I do not mean to minimize the severity of this illness, and certainly do not intend to imply that hand hygiene would prevent this illnesses spread. However, I stand firm in my opinion that accelerating the hype is more damaging than productive, especially when it comes from members to the health care system.