Sun, Aug 12, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Overworked nurses must get changes they deserve

By Chen Chia-ju 陳家如

According to news reports, nurses at National Taiwan University Hospital have long been told that if they have accumulated “negative leave” or “negative hours,” they cannot apply for long vacations to go abroad.

Big hospitals make big profits, but nurses’ working conditions are none the better for it. This issue brings to mind two cases that show how great an effect nurses’ exhausting working conditions can have on people’s happiness and health.

The first case was told by Taipei City Hospital superintendent Huang Sheng-jean (黃勝堅) about a young man who was admitted to the intensive care unit after being seriously injured in an accident and whose face was so badly swollen that he was barely recognizable.

His mother knew that her son had almost no chance of surviving, so she turned to a doctor in the ward with tears in her eyes and asked: “Could you make his face less swollen, so that on the way to the next world he looks a bit more human?”

A nurse who was being worked off his feet blurted out: “What difference would it make for him?”

How sad it is that nurses can be too busy and tired to appreciate the feelings of patients’ family members.

Luckily, a doctor who was standing nearby took a different attitude, saying: “Actually, it does not take long for us to reduce a patient’s swelling. We just have to give him a diuretic injection and apply an ice pack.”

The doctor then told the nursing team exactly how to do it.

A few months later, two people turned up at the door of the doctor’s clinic, where they knelt down and wept tears of gratitude.

“We are the younger brother and sister of that young man, who later passed away,” they said.

“Thank you for not ignoring our mother’s impertinent request and for telling the nursing staff how to care for our brother,” they said.

“Thanks to you, by the time our brother died, he was back to his original appearance, and that was comforting for our mother,” they said.

“Otherwise, if our brother had left this world with his face still so badly swollen, our mother would scarcely have had the courage to go on living. She would have been blaming herself all the time,” the siblings said.

It is good to know that the extra bit of care given by the doctor and nurses allowed that mother not to spend the rest of her life in tears.

The other case took place in Japan two years ago, when two patients in Oguchi Hospital in Yokohama were found to have died of poisoning and tests detected a surfactant chemical in their intravenous (IV) drips. Between July and September 2016, 48 patients died in the hospital’s fourth-floor wards.

After a two-year investigation, the police narrowed their suspicions down to a female nurse named Ayumi Kuboki, who, after being arrested, confessed to poisoning the patients.

The reason she gave was that if patients died while she was on duty, she would have to go through the trouble of explaining their symptoms and cause of death to their families. She thought it would be better to dump this “bothersome task” on her colleagues, so she tampered with the patients’ IV drips while her colleagues were on duty.

These two cases show how important it is for medical teams to have reasonable workloads — so why is there still this idea that staff with negative leave or negative hours cannot apply for long holidays to travel abroad?

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