Nursing Talk

Dear Cassandra:

Sometimes I think about the awesome duty of being responsible for the life of my client. So many things can go wrong. Private duty nurses face ventilators which malfunction, gang members in the neighborhood, the danger of carbon monoxide build-up in the home, gas leaks, rotting floors, runaway wheelchairs, school bus accidents, and the danger of fire or flame near oxygen. How can I be sure I can keep my client safe?

Worried in Waukegan


Dear Worried,

First, let me say that your fears are perfectly normal. What parent responsible for a baby has not gone in to look at the child just to be sure that he is breathing? In fact, studies have shown that the most important factor in the survival of a child to age three is the loving care of a parent/adult.

Although your client is not your child, you feel the same responsibility to care for the child and keep him safe. Your job is complicated by the fact that you take care of a medically fragile child.

Human beings have an amazing ability to react to emergency when survival is at stake. Exhibiting superhuman physical strength, men are able to lift cars off of accident victims pinned underneath. Others work for days to rescue a child who has fallen down a well. Firefighters dash into a burning building to rescue the inhabitants.

Sometimes having a clever idea is the key to survival. My favorite example of an unusual survival skill is the true story of an attorney who went hunting with his buddies in the swamps of the Deep South. Somehow, he and his dog got separated from the rest of the group. Trying to find the way out, the hunter waded for hours through the murky water filled with snakes, turtles, and alligators. When he was exhausted, he would sit on a fallen log. His dog would swim over to the log and climb out of the water to rest, too. Night came. Still no rescue.

The next morning the hunter heard the sound of a small plane flying over the area, apparently searching for them. The plane even passed overhead, but, since the hunter was dressed in camouflage, the rescuers did not see him. Then he had an idea! He ripped off his white Jockey briefs and tied the underwear to the barrel of his gun. When the plane flew over again, the hunter waved the gun with the white cloth tied to the barrel, and the rescuers saw it. Saved by “tighty whities!”

The honest truth is that you cannot be sure that you can keep your client safe. You can only do your best. Review safety procedures. Try to anticipate dangers. Try to prevent accidents. Have a plan of action in place in case of emergency. Should those fail, keep calm, use your wits, and remember the story of the hunter saved by his underwear.


Note: First published on American Home Health's news, May 2011.

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