A Parent's Worst Nightmare - Two Very Different Nursing Experiences


Published: 09 November 2016

I would like to share a personal story about two contrasting experiences my family, and in particular my daughter, had with two different hospitals.

(Just to put this story into context, she is not a child; she is 22, but she will always be my baby).

The First Situation: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare

Our daughter had been in a car accident and we had to go to Melbourne.

I don’t remember exact timeframes, but what followed was around the longest fifteen minutes of my life before we heard that she was going to be ok.

When we arrived at the hospital in person, we were not allowed into the emergency department immediately. They have very strict rules around how many people are allowed in at one time. Being a nurse, I understood this well, however being a mother, all reasoning goes out the window.

We were made to wait for only five minutes before we were allowed in. My daughter was in the resuscitation bay, laying flat, with a cervical collar on. They were waiting for results of CT and x-ray scans to clear her neck. She was conscious, with a Glasgow coma scale (GCS) score of 15, although upset and emotional (she wasn’t the only one).

This is where I saw the most amazing medical and nursing care.

The thoroughness, the expertise, the ‘leave nothing to chance’ attitude – I was so impressed. Our family was so grateful to have this care and equipment available to us in Melbourne.

My daughter always felt safe and like she mattered, even though she was not in the best environment and shared a ward with some challenging patients.

After day four, her neck was cleared and she was discharged.

The Second Situation

Roughly six weeks later my daughter was admitted again to the same hospital after experiencing weakness and numbness in her leg.

Because of the nature of her symptoms, my daughter needed to be transferred the following day to another major hospital where a neurosurgeon could admit her.

This is where the contrast began, and unfortunately I am talking about the profession that I love.

My daughter felt unsafe. No one at the second hospital knew what her history was or even that she had been in a car accident. They could never get her diet right and she was consistently given the wrong food (she requires a gluten-free diet). The nurses displayed no care factor when queried, and one even attempted to argue that the bread they had given her was gluten free, when it clearly wasn’t.

One evening my daughter rang me in a very distressed state. Her words were: “the nurses here have got their degrees from a cereal packet!” Her leg and foot had become cold and the response from the nurse was to ‘put a towel on it’. I decided to go back into the hospital.

When I arrived, two nurses had just walked out of her room and were about to handover. My daughter was behind the curtains, shaking uncontrollably and very frightened. She remained conscious but could not control the violent shaking of her body. She was also hot and very tachycardic.

The nurses had put her back to bed, put the cot sides up and left her there.

I enquired as to whether the nurses had rung the doctor, as this was the first episode of this kind. They informed me the doctor had been paged.

After ten minutes, I again asked what was happening, and got the same answer.

I asked if anyone had done her observations. This was met with a lot of eye-rolling, but eventually they did take her obs.. Her pulse was 160 beats per minute and her temperature was 38.8 degrees celsius.

Someone else then came into the room and checked her pulse manually. They left. After another ten minutes of watching my daughter continue to shake uncontrollably and become more upset, I demanded to know what the nurses had done about getting a doctor and why they hadn’t made a ‘met call’.

The response: “I know that you are a nurse, and we have checked her pulse manually and it is only 90 beats per minute”. I am not sure how you can accurately count a pulse manually when it is that fast, but this was clearly a wrong recording of her true pulse rate.

When I threatened to ring her surgeon directly and demand something be done, the nurses finally made a met call. On the monitor, my daughter’s pulse rate was now 180 beats per minute and her temperature was 39.9 degrees celsius.

When the nurse was asked how long this was going on for, they said: “half an hour”. I interjected and reported that it had already lasted nearly two hours, and needed to inform the met team of her history, as the nurses clearly had no idea.

When she settled, she was transferred to a high dependency unit (HDU) and monitored overnight, and I was assured that she would be looked after. In the HDU, she was monitored closely, but still received no caring or compassionate attitude from the nurses.

Throughout the night, the nurses on duty continually gossiped aloud about patients. The man in the next bed to my daughter who had suffered a stroke was told to ‘shut up and go to sleep’. These actions cemented our perception that the nurses at this hospital held a total lack of care.

My Question Is:

How can the care be so dramatically different in two hospitals in the same city?

Is it leadership or lack thereof? And how should the leaders be influencing the nurses?

When I reflect on these experiences, I am reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou: ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’