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The stories that never get told: Relationships

By: Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN

“I can lend you a dress for the Christmas party,” Judy offered. “I don’t fit into them anyway right now.”

I was surprised at the lack of pretentiousness. I just wasn’t used to a doctor being friendly. I had learned to be more aloof, but the door had opened and so I gratefully accepted. Judy had listened to our conversations at the nursing station enough to know I didn’t have the money for a fancy dress. Later that week she shared with me that both of her parents had died in a fire a month earlier, and that she had just moved to Seattle to take a hospitalist position. We connected. Little did I realize that our relationship would save a patient’s life.

Room 731 was cleared for discharge by Judy at 10:00 in the morning. Her family asked, “Do you think it’s okay if we leave?” (they lived quite a distance away.)  Except for the fact that her bowel tones had been hypoactive and she wasn’t interested in eating, I gave them the green light. Vital signs were good, and the cabulance wasn’t coming until 2 pm.

At 11:00 I assessed her abdomen again. This time there were no bowel sounds and it seemed slightly more distended. At noon, the patient started complaining of abdominal pain and I reassessed and paged the hospitalist: Judy.

I want you to come see this patient before discharge. She has no bowel tones, her abdomen is distended and now she is complaining of abdominal pain. I reported.

“Give her an enema. I don’t have time to see her,” she snapped. “I have a crises in the ER”

“I already did that an hour ago with no results.”

What do you want?” she asked frustrated and overwhelmed.

“I want a KUB upright STAT, I replied quickly.

And tell them to call the results to me”, she added hanging up. (I never thought of that!)

Forty-five minutes later the patient was in emergency surgery for a perforated bowel.

I recalled all the times in the past when a doctor would ignore me, not listen, or even ask for my assessment or recommendation. I didn’t have a lot of experience, but I learned that day that the relationships I had with my physician partners could save my patients’ lives.

Share your stories in the Year of the Nurse so that we can continue to inspire and uplift each other!

“A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other” – Simon Sinek

Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN, is an internationally recognized patient safety and health culture expert. Kathleen has spoken on leadership, communication, patient safety, and peer relationships to hospital executives and nurse leaders for twenty years.

All of her books come from her passion to understand the stories of nurses.  Her books, “Ending Nurse to Nurse Hostility” and “Speak Your Truth” illuminate our relationships with our peers and physician partners.  She is also co-author of “The Dauntless Nurse” which was written as a communication confidence builder.

Kathleen is also a guest Op Ed writer to the Seattle Times and has been interviewed twice on NPR’s “People’s Pharmacy”. Her Tedx Talk calls for changing our belief system from a hierarchy to equality in order to keep our patients safe – and also explains how disaster thrust her into ‘the best profession ever’.

You can also find more information about Kathleen on her websiteTwitter, and Facebook

The views and opinions expressed by My Nurse Influencer contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

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