Magazine article Insight on the News

Nurse Ratchet High on Attitude

Magazine article Insight on the News

Nurse Ratchet High on Attitude

Article excerpt

Patient's bill of rights" sounds as high-minded as some of those things the Founding Fathers guaranteed to us, one of those "inalienable rights" that we hold to be "self-evident."

What that bill of rights should include depends on who you ask, or maybe whether you've ever heard of the Dingell-Norwood bill that Al Gore went on so about in the third debate. Or whether you ask someone who wants to sue his health-maintenance organization or who wants to choose another doctor. It all depends, maybe, on that fine print in the insurance policy.

Or you could ask anyone who ever has rung for a pain-killing pill at 4 o'clock in the morning in a strange hospital bed. You could ask me. I recently spent five days in the hospital for surgery on my poor achin' back. Just as all politics is local, all pain is personal. Anecdotes are not supposed to replace hard "objective" facts, but when it's your body, you can skip the objectivity, thank you.

So there I was, flat on it, after five hours of hammering and nailing on my interior superstructure and at the mercy of nurses on call. I had the doctor's permission to receive a painkiller at four-hour intervals, which I monitored very carefully. I understood Parlor's dogs.

It was 6 a.m. and my four hours were up. I rang for the nurse. No reply. Ten minutes later, I rang again. No reply. Thirty minutes later, ditto. Finally, a young woman in white, the twin sister of Nurse Ratchet, flew in from the cuckoo's nest, popped her head in my door and with the malevolent enthusiasm of Mary Poppins on crack asked what I wanted.

"I would like a pain pill," I replied, trying to show enough passive politeness to cover up internal rage.

"Don't you know we're changing shifts?" asked Nurse Ratchet. "I have paperwork to do."

"But I'm in pain and I need the medication my doctor wants me to have."

"Well," she said, "you'll just have to wait. I need another half-hour and when I finish my paperwork I'll bring it to you."

"But I can't wait another half-hour. I've already waited 45 minutes."

"You will if I say so. And if you don't stop taking up my time with talk, you'll wait another 45 minutes."

My rage erupted in exact proportion to my pain. Nurse Ratchet, her fingers no doubt worn to a nub from all the wear and tear with her pencils, hurried out and scrounged a pill. …

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