1. Harris, Shannon M.


Nurses aren't just healers-they're teachers, too.


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A teeny red bump had mysteriously appeared on my left index finger. It hurt when I pressed on it. I figured it was nothing, but by the next morning my finger was shiny and discolored, and so swollen I couldn't bend it. Reluctantly, I drove to the hospital.

Figure. Illustration... - Click to enlarge in new window Illustration by Jennifer Rodgers.

Even after the ED doc had injected a numbing agent into my finger, I could feel her scalpel slice steadily through my skin. I winced as she forced ooze out with her thumb.


She told me my finger would be fine the next day.


When I came in and she saw that it wasn't, she apologized. I was admitted for emergency treatment.


IV antibiotics didn't work. Two nurses sat with me, trying to figure out where this bump had come from in the first place. After X-rays, everyone seemed convinced that I had a "bead" in my finger.


"Are you sure it's not a BB from a gun?" one nurse asked suspiciously. I was absolutely sure it was not. Unconvinced, she asked me again.


"I think I'd remember getting shot," I replied.


She raised her eyebrow skeptically. I noticed.


I didn't know where the bump had come from any more than they did. Apparently the original protrusion (aka "the bead") was still visible in the X-ray, even through my massive, festering finger puff, which wasn't going away. Tests confirmed that I had MRSA. I needed surgery.


One nurse explained the condition and gave me a black-and-white handout. I needed to have the goo in my finger dug out before the infection spread. In retrospect, though, it sounded much more eloquent when she said it.


Three physicians entered my hospital room to observe my finger and explain MRSA. "You have methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus," they each informed me. I knew that. I'd read the handout.


I talked to the nurse. She even explained why I needed to be absolutely sure to finish all of my antibiotics. I'd need to take "last-resort" medicine after my surgery-Zyvox-and there was no backup. "Either that works or you're out of options," she told me. Still, the physicians made their appearances and offered their own explanations.


The third physician stood out to me most. He asked to take a picture of my green and black, staph-infected finger with his iPhone. "Sure. Look at it! I thought this only happened to pirates," I told him as he snapped away. He glanced at the young, button-nosed nurse standing beside him. "Don't you want a picture? For your records?" he asked.


She shook her head, squinting and gritting her teeth. "I know. Yuck," I said. I later shared photos of my infection journey online, to the great wonder and disgust of my friends and family. Before that, though, came surgery.


Surgery terrified me. In hindsight, I should have been much more scared of the ED. At least you're not conscious for surgery. I "came to" afterward and asked when they were going to start. The shock related to that experience didn't come until a few hours later. The same nurse from before, the one who hadn't wanted to snap a photo with her phone, unwrapped my finger to pack it. I gasped at the inch-wide hole exposing my tendon. The opening was accented on the top and bottom by black "X" stitches.


The nurse, Ms. Lisa, told me I'd need to pack my own wound once a day until it was healed. I was horrified. "Can't I just come back and have a nurse do it?" I asked. She laughed and promised she'd show me how. I had no choice. I was released the next day. I filled my Zyvox prescription and went home.


The first time I sat at my table, sterile tools laid out on a fresh paper towel, I thought of Ms. Lisa. This kind of thing was routine for her. I recalled the way she focused intently on each step. How hard could it be? I suddenly felt thankful it was her, and not the "are you sure it's not a BB?" nurse, who'd offered me guidance. I was tranquil and confident as I dipped the gauze and buried it in my finger-that first day and many thereafter.


When Ms. Lisa first told me I'd be packing my own wound, I thought she was a little cuckoo. My degree is in education, not nursing. My home is crawling with bacteria that could recontaminate my finger. It's not sterilized like a hospital. All it would take is one itty-bitty mistake. A cat hair.


I followed her directions anyway, and my finger healed nicely and without incident. Because of Ms. Lisa, I now see nurses as more than healers. I see them as teachers, too.


Some of them, anyway.