Christians have their Bible, Jews have the Torah, and nurses from a bygone era had their KARDEX. Named after a company that specialized in using index cards for data storage, KARDEXES were the center piece of any nursing station. Patient charts come and go with whoever snatches them up, but the KARDEX is always front and center at any gathering of nurses. Change of shift report without this wonderful collection of data would be impossible.
The front and back of a vintage KARDEX was a solid sheet of gunmetal grey steel with a piano hinge through the midsection. When you opened this hefty collection of vital information an audible, metallic CLUNK would echo around the room. That harmonious sound reminded me of a church bell announcing that something important was about to happen. The flipping through the KARDEX index cards made a gentle rustling sound like the wind blowing through a Midwest cornfield just before the combine moved in for harvest. What a contrast to the contemporary clicking, bleeping, and clacking of a computer keyboard. I loved this bit of KARDEX acoustic candy because it was an auditory sign that my shift was over and more peaceful, restful times were ahead.
What information was included in the KARDEX? Everything a nurse needed to know when providing patient care: demographics, treatments, medications, allergies, consults, code status,
urine reductions, diet, surgery, I&Os, IVs, and IM injection rotation sites (everyone received these painful ministrations and rotating the sites distributed the pain over a larger area). The patient's name and physician was written in ink, but everything else was written in pencil and unlike the medical record, subject to erasure. The Kardex was not a formal document and when the patient was discharged, the cards were ceremoniously tossed in the circular file. No HIPPA - No shredding. Identity theft was unheard of.
From my blogging foolishness, I can attest to the fact that people say different things under the cloak of anonymity and the KARDEX was no different. I was a quiet and reserved scrub nurse and just look at the blowhard I've become with an anonymous blog. Notations in the Kardex were not signed and nurses perfected a generic form of printing to avert handwriting analysis. This cloak of secrecy promoted blunt and sometimes crude KARDEX entries. KARDEX notations often liberated many a nurse's free spirit and foolishness was not too far away.
Nurses who came before me often had to administer painful and unpleasant (to say the least) treatments and never took "no" for an answer. Rather than write that it was necessary to restrain or hold a patient to the bed for a treatment, code words were used. "Patient needs assistance maintaining proper position for enemas," sounds better than "restrain his arms to prevent fighting to dislodge enema tube." In pediatrics the youngsters often needed "help" to receive painful injections or treatments. Those old school nurses were a force to be reckoned with and their KARDEX entries sometimes bordered on fiction. I vowed to never cultivate a mean, sadistic nature present in these hard core care givers.
As I was thinking about the KARDEX, a stream of odd ball and memorable entries returned to my obtunded consciousness. Every student nurse remembers their very first patient. Mine happened to be a pleasant, young Hispanic man recovering from a heroin overdose. Prominently displayed on his index card was a very good suggestion: No heroin on discharge.
Downey VA could be a very dangerous place to work and assaults were an unfortunate occurrence. A night nurse pulled from the medical side of the facility left an ominous warning taped to the front of the KARDEX: Unsafe to be in attendance here at ant time. DO NOT ask me to cover this ward again. I heartily concurred but could not do much about my situation. Building 66 was my permanent assignment.
Folks addicted to drugs had a very difficult time in vintage hospitals and old school nurses seemed to delight in social engineering to make their stay as miserable as possible. The old "That'll learn ya" attitude on steroids. A frequent entry on a drug addicted patient's Kardex was: Known drug abuser-no pain meds of any kind.
Floor is slippery. Patient expectorating giant phlegm globs. Enough said.
If patient is experiencing difficulty voiding, have him blow through a drinking straw. Along with running the sink, this trick really worked.
On the post-partum unit: Remind patient to pull inverted nipples out. Ouch..as if the delivery experience wasn't bad enough.
A patient, Dudley, that I cared for as a student nurse smelled of urine no matter how carefully I bathed him. A perusal of the KARDEX offered an unusual explanation of the pungent odor. Remove patient's prosthetic leg from the room on PM shift. He awakens at night and fills it with urine.
Have footwear at bedside for AM pulmonary function testing. We all knew what this entailed. PFTs were conducted in the stairwell at the end of the hall. If a patient could ascend 2 flights of steps with a resident encouraging him from behind, he was deemed an acceptable surgical risk. Just be careful not to slip on the giant pools of phlegm/mucous left behind on the steps.
Some patient families are prepared for just about any contingency. I remember well the family that brought a 3 piece suit to the hospital with a dying patient. The KARDEX notation: Make sure the suit in the clean utility room goes with the undertaker when he comes for the body. Yikes!
KARDEXES were the hospital equivalent of a jungle telegraph and revealed information that you were afraid to ask about or never knew existed. I think rigid and permanent forms of medical record keeping, electronic or paper, can block nursing inventiveness that drive holistic care. The old KARDEX unleashed the nursing free spirit by delineating what really worked for the patient.