Only weeks after awkward bed bath simulations on each other and not more than three patients, freshmen nurses were assigned to three half days of patient care on the medical-surgical services. Assignments were posted the afternoon prior to the big day. The freshmen sprang toward that bulletin board like it was a ribbon at the end of a race. But it was only the beginning.
Zelda was pleased. She was assigned to one the instructors she liked and the students in this pod. She felt confident on where this unit was located, the layout of rooms by number and the bed designations in two-bed rooms. Bed A is nearest the door. She scribbled, B2 Pearson 203A. Day one was to include helping with breakfast, A.M. Care and observe any nursing treatments.
Following shift report, Zelda entered the room of Fern Pearson and her roommate. Miss Pearson was an adult woman painfully crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. Her disabilities were so severe that it required that she live with parents. Her father, in an effort to curb and calm the pain in her legs had applied a variety of ointments and heat in attempt to soothe. An unfortunate chemical reaction created a condition called cellulites. Zelda was horrified to witness but grateful she only had to watch an experienced nurse change the dressings that covered both of Ms. Pearson’s legs from mid thigh to ankle. They were scalded, blistered, dark, raw-meat red.
Later in evenings students researched the diagnosis, medications, treatments and potential complications and contraindications and recorded those 3x5cards. Despite Zelda’s knowledge and growing experience in caring for this woman, Fern Pearson remained bedridden, as her skin bubbled, wept, burst and tunneled. The virulence traveled nearer the bone. Zelda muscled through past because that’s what she was expected to do. Past the odor of Fern’s fetid flesh and the pain she was required to inflict doing those wet to dry soaks.
Routine reassignment sent each student to a new patient and Fern left Zelda’s daily thoughts. Weeks later while students observed an autopsy, a scrub clad man marched by their aluminum table carrying a towel wrapped package. Zelda inhaled and chanted out loud, “Fern Pearson”. It was her leg. Although it was a disturbing thought, the smelly limb marked the possibility of Fern’s future, her only escape to have a life even if it meant a limb short.
Nursing trained; know the whole person, your patient. So the nursing student must gain skills in observation, learning to engage all the senses. Zelda got glimpses of the light and shadow, the yin and yang, of health care, life and living. She suspected Fern Pearson would be with her forever.