The Impact of the Nursing Shortage on Patient Care

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by Jennifer van Amerom |

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I never imagined that a nurse would slap me across my face, but it happened. The slap wasn’t hard — it was just enough to jolt me back to reality, and I was grateful the nurse had done it.

About 10 years ago, I was waiting for my cesarean section surgery. My water had broken hours earlier, but I was stable. My condition, neuromyelitis optica (NMO), makes everything high risk, especially a pregnancy.

As I waited for the surgery, the doctors loaded me up with morphine. I couldn’t resist the urge to drift out of reality, but my nurse knew I wouldn’t want to miss the birth of my child. Without hesitating, she did everything to keep me awake, even slapping me across the face.

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How I Manage My Healthcare Team

When you have a rare autoimmune disease, hospitals become part of your existence. Between the appointments, the tests, the waiting rooms, the needles, the emergency room, and the endless sounds of people and machines, the hospital can create a lot of anxiety.

Nurses are important to the hospital ecosystem. I believe they are the army that keeps everything operational. They also help de-escalate situations and keep patients calm in their greatest moment of need.

When I think back to every problematic moment in my life, a nurse has been by my side. While every nurse I’ve interacted with has been incredibly busy, they have always found time to be kind.

Here in Ontario, Canada, though, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario reported a shortage of 22,000 nurse practitioners at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, many nurses have suffered burnout and chosen to leave the profession. In an already strained system, this shortage is detrimental to patient care.

As a society, we should be panicked about this information. I don’t know how nurses can be any busier. They already work long hours and are often asked to pick up extra shifts, sometimes at different hospitals.

Nurse Micheline, the one who kept me awake before my C-section, was also by my side when I was wheeled into the operating room. She held my hand while I received an epidural, because my husband, Mike, had to wait nervously outside during the procedure before he could join me for the delivery. Given the lesions on my spine, this was the part that made me most nervous, but my nurse was there to remind me to keep breathing.

When Micheline recognized Mike’s stunned state during the birth, she took the camera out of his hand and started snapping away. Because of her, we will forever have photos from that precious moment in time.

Later, when we had settled into the recovery room as a new family of three, Micheline came in to check on us. She told me she was also the one who had encouraged my husband to cut the umbilical cord.

I’ve never felt like I properly thanked Micheline. For her, it was probably just another day at work, while for Mike and me, it was the most important day of our lives.

Nurses are so remarkable that they might not even recognize the impact they make on people’s lives every day. We need to do everything we can to reverse the nursing shortage so that patients can continue to receive quality care.

I know I’ll be a regular at hospitals and doctor’s offices for the rest of my life. When I’m there, I always look for the nurse who builds rapport and trust with me quickly because I need them. I might seem brave going in, and sometimes it’s just a routine checkup, but deep down, I’m always fighting anxiety alongside NMO.

Please share a memory of your favorite nurse in the comments below.


Note: Neuromyelitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Neuromyelitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).

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