Tales from nursing: “I can’t see”

March 25, 2007 at 9:00 pm (Life before med school)

While I was in college a friend of mine suggested to me that I become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) to get experience working with patients.  The licensing test to become a CNA involves taking a multiple choice test in the morning, followed by a practical exam.  Normally, students take a class at a local high school or community college to get the prerequisite knowledge necessary to take the exam. In my state, test takers used to be able to challenge the exam without ever taking the class.  Simply sign up for the test and the Department of Health will mail you a brochure telling you everything you need to know.

The written test is fairly easy.  The bulk of the questions can be summarized as:

Given a patient with the following condition, how do you proceed?
A. Treat him like crap.
B. Treat him like crap.
C. Treat him like crap.
D. Treat him with dignity.

Without ever taking the class, I’m sure that most of you could figure out the appropriate response.  The practical portion of the exam consists of a series of exercises to show that you know how to work with people.  I remember looking up the steps to take a blood pressure online, and then winged the rest of it on test day.  Surprisingly enough, I passed. (We aren’t exactly talking Step 2 CS difficulty here.)

The year after I earned my CNA license, my state did away with the challenger option.  Now, everyone who wishes to get certified must take an accredited class.  The move by lawmakers was a good thing as I witnessed my own struggles during my first month of working in a hospital.  While I don’t want to use this space to go into the awkwardness of giving my first enema, I do want to comment of one of my more memorable patients.

I worked the 3pm-11pm shift on a medical-surgical floor.  At night, I would put the patients to bed and then turn off the T.V., turn off the lights, tell the patient to go to sleep, and then shut the door.  I found that this sequence usually made the night uneventful as most patients fell asleep and didn’t bother the nurses with frequent calls.

One night I was sitting at the nursing station when a call light lit up, indicating that a patient wanted to speak to someone.  The patient then began hitting the call light frantically—a sign that something was seriously wrong.  I ran into the patient’s room with the lights still off and asked, “What’s the matter?”  The patient called back, “I can’t see!” as she was horrified to have lost her vision during the night.

I thought for a moment and replied, “Of course you can’t see.  It’s dark in here.”  I reached for the wall, turned on the light, and miraculously gave the patient her sight back. 

That was my introduction to nursing.

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