|Needles could turn a smile into a grimace, lickety split|
Procedures were the alpha and omega of diploma nursing programs and the ultimate way of measuring a student's progress. Like just about any other trade school, academic accomplishment took a back seat to providing a free source of hospital labor. Procedures performed without concern for remuneration on unsuspecting patients were the currency used to pay for "free" books, housing, uniforms, and food. There was no such thing as a free lunch.
Student nurses' mindsets were carefully groomed to maintain a calm, confident, omniscient bedside demeanor despite the fact that this was our virginal attempt at thrusting a 2 inch Imferon needle into a fellow human's vulnerable flesh. We were acutely aware that the procedure was likely inhumane and excruciatingly painful. Student nurses also carried the burdensome knowledge that any flaw in their Z tract injection technique would be visibly advertised by that ugly, dark brown Imferon staining the surrounding subcutaneous tissue. An ear beating public dress down from my favorite instructor, Miss Bruiser was sure to follow. I found it ironic that her name reflected the very nature of the Imferon staining complication, a big old brown contusion that looked a mess.
As a general rule of thumb, any procedure performed above the waist line, was done to a fellow student, affectionately known as a procedure pals. This relationship always reminded me of a cat vs. groundhog fight, one minute the cat is chasing the ground hog and the next minute the rodent is baring his formidable front teeth at the feline. The nurse and the
victim patient in subsititutus had to be very wary when dealing with one another, she who injects and skedaddles might live to inject another day, or the next minute, become the hapless recipient. Like so many other aspects of nursing, a classic no win situation.
Performing painful treatments on each other was thought to be a vital component of nursing education, a real boon to developing empathy and the proper "attitude," what ever that was. Thank heaven we were not studying neuro surgery. I shudder to think about the mess a bunch of first time amateur craniotomies would look like.
When it came to performing
uncomfortable downright painful procedures there were two student nurse personality types involved. The most dangerous, in my humble opinion, was the eager beaver, overly enthusiastic student who would stop at nothing to be the first one administering the tormenting treatment.
These were the novice nurses who thought the blood dripping from their fingers after a botched venipuncture was a badge of honor or that it was appropriate to celebrate doing post mortem care for the first time. Miss Bruiser usually was able to take the wind out of their sails by insisting the eager students "volunteer" for her to insert a NG tube down their dainty little porboscus. Her ram rodding technique combined with her "demonstration" of a sulcus at the base of the tongue would humble anyone. The manipulation of the tube at the level of the epiglottis was guaranteed to provoke a hacking, gagging fit that would turn one's stomach while simultaneously bring tears flowing like a fire hydrant. A memorable experience that was sure to temper the gusto of the most aggressive eager beaver.
At the other end of the student nurse spectrum were the reluctant, overly sensitive types who were preoccupied with the uncomfortable nature of their ministrations. I was, without a doubt, a member of this tribe and frequently found myself biting my cheek when it came time to do just about anything associated with inflicting pain.
Mrs. Viotto was the kindly, grandmotherly nurse that was assigned to us who were not so eager beavers when learning painful procedures. Her constant reassuring smile resembled the exaggerated expression a pantomimist would use. Her typical discourse followed the theme that we were there to help patients recover and in order to accomplish the end goal we would sometimes have to do things that were "uncomfortable." Pain was not part of her vocabulary. Everything from dressing changes on burn patients to bicillin injections were just "uncomfortable."
There was a reassuring smoothness in the way Mrs. Viotto conducted herself when demonstrating procedures. Rather than the stabbing and jabbing of the over eager student nurse clan, she stressed gliding a needle into position or threading a catheter in place. I learned more from her than any other instructor.
There was a very short window of opportunity for student nurses to master procedures and if by junior year a deficit was identified big trouble ensued. That dreaded yellow dismissal form with the dream shattering message, "unsuited for the practice of nursing," would soon find it's way to your mail box
. It was like an amputation in the days before anesthesia; painful and irreversible. Although, sometimes, the students who persevered envied the one's who left, especially when the ex-students would return to nursing school for a visit with tales of menial jobs paying more than a nurse could ever hope to earn.