Cecil, a 26 year old quadriplegic reclines in bed waiting for a pair of nurses to transfer him to his waiting mobility device, an electric wheelchair. Standard operating procedure calls for the nurses to wrestle him to a sitting position with his legs dangling over the bedside. The nurses then assume a position on either side of Cecil with their muscled arms hooked under his armpits. A Cape Canaveral countdown commences and at the conclusion we have a lift off as the stalwart nurses heft Cecil's limp body into the wheel chair. A solid plop down completes the mission. The source of that ominous cracking noise is a toss up - a nurses back or shoulder joint popped.
The sensitive nurses recognize Cecil's vulnerable state of affairs and take measures to minimize the progression from helplessness to hopelessness by understating the difficulty of the manual transfer. No complaining or grunting and groaning by the nurses when the critical lift is at the peak of their muscular endurance. Pseudo smiles mask the aching backs and burning biceps. Cecil replies with a heartfelt "thank-you," as the nurses ignore their wounded backs and secure him to his electric chariot of a wheel chair.
When hospital administrators could reward nurses with service pins and non-monetary tokens there was little concern about nurse's damaged intervertebral discs or wrenched shoulders sustained while lifting patients. Angels in white were there to serve without concerns for remuneration.
Change was about to come when nurses had financial benefits like workman's compensation and paid sick leave. Nurse's manual efforts to overcome gravity for their patients suddenly became an expensive commodity and red ink on hospital balance sheets demanded immediate action.
Hospitals began to institute a no lift policy and resorted to devices like the Hoyer mechanical lift for patient transfers. This handy dandy device had a hydraulic pump much like a car jack to lift patients. Straps or a sling were applied under the patients arm and legs and the operator initiated the lift by pumping a lever which resulted in having the patient suspended in mid air.
Cecil and most all patients that were accustomed to human lifts hated these mechanical monsters and pronounced them "inhumane." The herkey - jerkey movement of the Hoyer was offensive to some patients, but there was more to their aversions. Cecil related that here was nothing to hang on to and the feeling of being suspended in mid air was frightening.
I tried to understand Cecil's objection and related the lift experience to my climbing adventures as a foolish youngster. Climbing open structures like fire towers was indeed much more terrifying than scaling a solid rock face. Having a fixed object in front of you as a reference took some of the fear out of the elevation. It's the reason that mountain climbers don't necessarily make good workers on cell phone towers. The tactile presence of the nurse lifters added a measure of security to the precarious gravity defying adventure.
Old time nurses like me were falsely advised we were capable of lifting just about any patient if "proper body mechanics" were used. Keep your back straight and let your legs do the work was the mantra. Science does not support this whacky notion. The spinal vertebrae can take only a limited amount of stress and damage to their fibrous structure is cumulative. Nurses have one of the highest occurrences of musculoskeletal injuries of any occupation.
The only inhumane aspect of lifting is the high injury rate of manual lifters.