The Art of Nursing and the Science of Medicine – Sue Averill
Last month I traveled with other nurses and doctors to Port Au Prince, Haiti with Project Medishare, working at Bernard Mevs, the only neuro-surgical and trauma facility in the region. Project Medishare’s goal is to train Haitian doctors and nurses and to establish sustainable programs so the facility can function independently beyond the departure of expats.
Among my role as ER and Triage nurse, I was anointed “The Hysteric Whisperer.” Many teenage girls and young women came to the hospital via ambulance or private vehicle presenting in catatonic states, hyperventilating or as “post-ictal seizure” patients. We soon learned, these were anxiety/panic attacks. One teenage girl was brought, ambulance lights blazing and sirens blaring for “seizures” – but made eye contact and was purposefully moving around in the gurney – not in a post-ictal state. The doctor approached the patient and shouted, “Prepare to intubate!”
Three minutes later, I held the girl’s hands and helped her off the gurney and onto a chair. Intubation was certainly not necessary. With an astounded look on his face, the doctor asked “How did you do that? That was magic!” I replied, “Want to know the magic? I put my face down close to hers, spoke very slowly, softly and quietly into her ear, and told her ’It’s OK’ over and over and over. I pet her cheek, made eye contact and suddenly big crocodile tears began to slide out.”
The Haitian population has several factors working against them: the traumatic events of the 2010 earthquake – the country is still piecing itself together. The fact that Haiti is an impoverished developing country with limited resources. Add to that frequent sexual violence against women, family issues, loss of not only loved ones but schools and homes and churches, plus the surging hormones of teenagers, it’s no wonder these young female patients frequently present with anxiety and hysteria.
A nurse’s approach is humanistic. It’s thoughtful. It involves comfort, care, touch, words and warmth. It’s holistic. Nursing approaches patient care – whether in a hospital, a clinic, or a tent in Africa – from another direction than medical doctors. Our professions are intertwined yet quite different.
It’s the art of nursing versus the science of medicine.
– Sue Averill, RN