What A Labor Nurse Can Handle That You Cannot
By Shelly Lopez Gray
Women in unexpected pain
It's labor, so everyone knows it's going to hurt, right?!? Wrong. Whatever our patients think it's going to be like, it's different. And every time they think it can't get worse than this, they're surprised, because it does get worse than this.
They think their pain is a scale of 8? Wait 'til their baby's head is trying to find it's way under their pelvic bone. Then the baby's head has to come out of their vagina. And then they have to deliver the shoulders... Get the drift? No matter how much they think they know what the pain will be like, there is unexpected pain.
And labor nurses have to deal with that and help a woman cope. Some have a pain goal expectation of zero :( Well, we'll keep striving for that, because we want them to be comfortable, but there's no pain scale of zero in labor and delivery:/
Sometimes they want medication, sometimes they want an epidural, sometimes they just want to move around and do whatever it is their body tells them to do (which we recommend). Often they just want to grab us and stare at us with crazy-eyes, but we are use to this as well. We just coach them on their breathing and reassure them they aren't really going to die.
One Word: Blood
When you think about blood, you may think that this is something an emergency room nurse can handle. But let's be honest, most people are using the ER like a clinic and although they do see their fair share of blood, in labor and delivery we are guaranteed to see blood at every.single.delivery.
And it's just different when it's coming out of a vagina. I've never met an ER nurse who could handle vagina blood... Oh, and sometimes, after delivery, we massage a woman's stomach and clots come out. We've all seen some the size of basketballs (seriously!).
Surging hormones. Raging hormones. Fluctuating hormones. Think PMS hormones and menopause hormones on crack. But we deal with those, and we expect those, and to us, these hormones are normal. But a lot of other nurses would have trouble dealing with a woman who is screaming at us one second and crying with gratitude the next.
And these aren't perfect "I-just-took-a-bath-because-I-knew-you'd-be-looking" vaginas. These are "holy-shit-I-can't-control-what's-coming-out-of-here" vaginas. But don't worry, we won't remember what yours looked like once we walk out of your room.
Again, most other nurses can not deal with vagina-blood. But for us, this is totally normal. We look at the color, we look at the consistency, we measure the amount, and we even monitor the smell! And vaginas in general are just vaginas to us. We see big ones and small ones and hairy ones and bare ones. Those are seriously a dime a dozen.
Every other "private" part
Besides vaginas, carefully inspecting nipples, breasts, and bottoms is part of our "normal" routine. And we have to chart what we see... You would think vaginas would be kind of original, but nipples come in every size, shape, and color. There are flat ones and big ones, innies and outies, and ones that point this way and that way.
These things may make other nurses squirm, but it doesn't make us the least bit uncomfortable :) Sometimes our patients have these... um, sensitive areas pierced and it's impossible to get the jewelry off. Imagine what we look like with our faces 5 inches away from their breasts or vagina-region trying to pry off a piece of jewelry...
Every nurse has a billion things to chart, but it's standard for labor nurses to have to chart at least every 15 minutes. That's right, every 15 minutes for our entire shift (if they are on Pitocin or if they are any kind of high risk). And if they're not, it's every 30 minutes :/ After an epidural, when a woman is pushing for delivery, and when we first get to PACU we have to chart every FIVE minutes. Sigh.
Hair here, hair there, hair everywhere. Except sometimes there. It's hard for most women at 9 months to shave their legs. Some just give up shaving anywhere else. But this doesn't phase us in the least :) I will NEVER forget my first day as a new grad, whispering to my preceptor that I thought only bad girls shaved "down there.":) I was wrong.
Crazy family members
If you're a nurse and you think you deal with crazy family members, imagine adding a brand new baby to the mix (everyone loves a baby). They can turn nutso. Think about how much you like your in-laws :/ And then imagine them in the room, trying to take pictures of your vagina as their grandbaby/niece/nephew makes their grand entrance into this world. Some times daddies don't like mommas. Sometimes mommas don't like daddies. Sometimes mommas don't like anyone. You get the picture.
Making "different" look like the new normal
You have to maintain a complete poker face when your patient requests or says something totally out of the ordinary... Some women say they're going to name their baby "Da'dance" or "Candi" (when their last name is Shoppe). Sometimes they just make unusual requests. Once we had a patient who had a cesarean delivery ask us to wipe vagina secretions on her baby's face :/ Yes, that's a thing. And we do it without blinking an eye, because that's just what we do, and it's their baby :)
..and honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Articles in this issue:
- Become A Critical Care Nurse, They Said. It Will Be Fun, They Said.
- 5 Things You Should Know About Working As A Nurse
- Surviving Your First Year As A Nurse
- Nurses Oppose Political Interference In Reproductive Health Care
- What A Labor Nurse Can Handle That You Cannot
- Bad Celebrity Health Advice
- Should A Man Taken To The ER In An Ambulance Against His Will Have To Pay The Bill?
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Liz Di Bernardo