Recently, a nurse made headlines for dropping a newborn, fracturing the baby’s skull. The parents, understandably upset, claim the nurse should have known better than to hold the baby if she was sleepy.
As a labor and delivery nurse, here is what I wish I could have said to that mother, what I’m sure many of us would want to say to that family:
Accidentally hurting your baby is one of our biggest fears. No nurse goes to work thinking they want to hurt someone. None of us leave our house thinking “I really want to make someone suffer.” There are a million and one ways a nurse can accidently do something wrong.
And every day, all day, we are very conscious of this fact and we work hard to provide the best care we possibly care… even if we’re short-staffed, even if our assignment is difficult, even if every room is full.
Even though we literally have twenty things to do at any given moment with a handful of different, complicated patients, we strive to provide compassionate care in a timely manner while struggling to chart every single action we take.
We know we’re going to make mistakes….our only hope is that the mistakes we make do not cause harm.
That nurse made a lot of right decisions. I’m just keeping it real—but seriously, that nurse could have made a lot of other really bad decisions. She could have dropped the baby and not told anyone.
Even though she was probably frightened and distraught that she had made an honest mistake, she chose to do the right thing and immediately get the baby evaluated.
A nurse’s mistake can have many consequences. No one is asking why the nurse had the baby in the first place. I would bet any amount of money that she was trying to allow an exhausted mother to get a few minutes of uninterrupted sleep.
And although I do not agree with this practice, I’m sure her intentions were pure.
What people who are not nurses do not understand is that our mistakes can have massive consequences. If we make a mistake, we can be peer-reviewed, which means our actions are brought before a committee to determine our nursing fate.
We could lose our nursing license, leaving us unable to work or financially support ourselves or our family.
If it’s deemed we were neglectful, criminal charges could be filed against us, and we could face hefty fines or even jail time. And our actions at work and at home are all up for examination and scrutiny.
That nurse is suffering right now. I don’t say this to diminish any anguish the family must feel that their baby was hurt while in the care of a healthcare provider. But wherever that nurse is right now, I promise you that she has been suffering.
As I said before, no nurse goes to work wanting to hurt someone.
She has had to endure being judged by her peers, questioning whether or not her facility would support her, and knowing that she caused a family distress.
This is an incident that she will never forget, an incident that will probably taint her 30-year memory of nursing.
If you would have dropped your baby while in the hospital, the nurse would also be blamed. I don’t believe healthy mothers and healthy babies should be separated while in the hospital. I don’t believe a nurse should take a baby from a mother, even at her request, so that the mother can get uninterrupted sleep.
This may not be a popular opinion, but as nurses, we need to see how these mothers interact with their babies even when they’re exhausted and sleep deprived.
But this leads to another issue… even if this mother would have dropped her own baby, the nurse and hospital would still be blamed. It would have been all about rounding, and how advice given to the patient, and room conditions were documented. As nurses, we have to be everything to everyone.
We are all human. As I drive to work tomorrow, I’ll think of the patients I will meet and care for.
And, as I walk through the doors of my hospital, I will think the same thing I have thought every single day since I graduated from nursing school: Just don’t hurt anyone. I know I will make mistakes.
I’m human. But I hope I never make a mistake that hurts or kills someone. And that is a fear that lives inside of every nurse everywhere.
… Until my next delivery!
Shelly Lopez Gray is the author of Adventures of a Labor and Delivery Nurse.