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Reality Unscripted
Nurses Overwhelmed by Swine Flu Pandemic

Swine flu.  There are millions of people who are panicking over the mere mention of it.  Schools are closing.  People are changing travel plans.  Government officials have stopped taking public transportation....and everybody and their brother is calling their doctor's office.

I, on the other hand, am not panicked.  I am annoyed.  The phones of every doctor's office in the country, and possibly a few other countries, are ringing off the hook.  Every person with a fever, every kid with a cough, every kid who sat next to a kid with a cough: They are all worried to death (or at least their mothers are) and looking to the medical profession for answers.

Unfortunately, the answers I want to provide are sarcastic.  "Do you know how many people die of influenza every year in the US?  36,000!  And do you know how many have died of H1N1 flu in the US so far?  One!  That's how many.  So go home and take some Advil, get some rest, and drink plenty of fluids.  Trust me, the chances are pretty good that you'll live."

Fortunately for my patients, I never actually say what I think.  It doesn't actually matter what I think.  What matters is that people are scared.  My job is to care for them.  In part, that's relieving those fears, but it's never dismissing them.  The term pandemic is scary.  It causes a low-level hysteria that rapidly grows into a high-level hysteria as news pundits discuss it day after day.  I can share my personal opinion with friends, but not with my patients.  I have to handle each person and each concern like it matters to me.

My best friend is an advice nurse in California.  She told me yesterday that they have received thousands of calls in the last couple weeks about the Swine flu.  The other day they were 6 1/2 hours behind on answering calls.  Of course, people were calling with "normal" stuff, too.  They also had to wait to be called back because of the flu calls.  It's completely overwhelming.  But one call at a time, they go through the protocol, giving advice, making appointments as needed, and talking people off the ledge.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's okay to feel frustrated about stuff like this, it's just not okay to show it.  At least not to our patients.  They deserve to feel like their illness, real or perceived, is important to the ones they have entrusted themselves to.

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4 Responses to “Nurses Overwhelmed by Swine Flu Pandemic”

  1. andrea Says:

    When we had SARS ‘scare’, my hospital was told by CDC they absolutely has to make 2 rooms available and in keeping with CDC codes for possible SARS pts. After the re-fitting of two rooms, doors built for that end of the hall, we had no SARS or possible SARS pts. There were two reported families with possible SARS who were quarentined in their own homes and visited by MD’S and nurses as needed, in our area. The expense was equal to the uncertainty and I felt there was the ‘rush to judgement’ panic at that time. I feel the media hyped Swine Flu into something far worse than it turned out to be. The down side is the reaction posted by the writer.
    Seems it doesn’t take much for the media to hype the masses into action, these days. Of course the medical profession paid mightily as memtioned by the writer. A sign of the times?

  2. Amy Kania Says:

    Thank you! Yes, the media does over-hype these things (IMHO), and unfortunately, the media is where the vast majority of Americans and other developed countries get their information. I don’t work in a clinic or call center, so I don’t get the panicked phone calls. But my med/surg patients talk about the swine flu because it’s constantly on the news, even in the middle of the night! I try to take those opportunities to educate my patients on the realities of “swine” flu (and avian flu and plain old-fashioned influenza, from which 36,000 people die in the US every year). I educate them on hand hygiene, household hygiene, and how to care for themselves or others on the very off chance that they do contract any flu. I hope I’m bringing some sanity to the situation, at least in my itty-bitty corner of the world. As nurses, it’s our job to keep our frustrations to ourselves and to meet our patients where they are, with a spirit of compassionate caring.

  3. Anna Banana Says:

    I totally agree that things are being blown out of proportion. We’re pulling out the N95 TB masks, gowns, gloves, and even goggles for suspected cases on my unit. We don’t do that for the normal flu, which isn’t far off from the N1H1 flu, from what I’ve been hearing. Yes, we’re frustrated, but we’re being flexible, and trying to have fun with it – like dressing up in all our garb, shooting fun pic’s of each other, and just laughing. That helps us through it – like when we’re sick of garbing up to go in every one of our pt’s rooms! 🙂

  4. Lindsey Says:

    Oh yes, the pandemic hysteria has reached us too. Everybody in the waiting room is asking for surgical masks. I gave up trying to explain that they only keep your own germs in and don’t protect you from outside germs!

    At the same time, our area is dealing with a measles outbreak…

    Oh, life is fun in the ER. 🙂

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