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08/05/2010

A Patient Is Rescued, From Melodrama

Theresa Brown, R.N. is right to point out on Tara Parker Pope’s Well Blog that most depictions of health care on television are sensationalized, over-dramatized, not particularly realistic characterizations of health care today. But in her story, A Patient is Rescued, Quietly, she goes to far in the other direction.

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Brown’s lament about the understaffing of the nursing profession and the lack of praise for the nurse today is also true, but her melodramatic story about how thanks to the lack of patients on her floor that day she was able to spend enough time on her critically ill patient to be able to save his life. Had her unit been full that day, she might have failed to rescue him when his blood pressure critically dropped and never even noticed.

But alas, the next day after saving his life, she returned to see him–even when she was not his nurse any longer, seeing him sitting happily in his bed, being bathed in sunlight.

Now, if some television dramas make healthcare seem overly critical and dire, Ms. Brown makes this healthcare situation seem overly simplistic, sweet and light. As anyone knows, it is just as likely that even if the unit had been over or understaffed that her patient could have taken a turn for the worse overnight and when she returned to the unit the next morning she would have found an empty bed.

That is also the reality of healthcare. What Ms. Brown fails to see is that there is a middle ground without melodrama or hype, but with simple reality. Some patients crash, some patients improve. Sometimes it’s due to healthcare staffing issues and medical mistakes, sometimes it has to do with bad luck or fate.

Ms. Brown does a disservice to her profession by saying anything other than that.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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