Why You Should Shave Your Legs For You (And Not For Your ER Nurse)

While reading this, please keep in mind that it’s 0630 after a night shift. I’ve had a solid two hours of sleep in the last 24 hours so please don’t judge me if I ramble.

You know, sometimes being awake in the wee hours of the morning makes me ponder things.

Tonight, I was pondering the many, many comments I get from from community members, patients, and patients’ families about ER staff and personal hygiene.

Not the staff’s personal hygiene, mind you.

The patient’s personal hygiene.

By now you may be confused.

Let me explain, in the form of a story…

Once upon a time (the day before yesterday), I met a patient, and the patient’s daughter. Let’s call her Sue.

Sue’s mom was under my care for a little while, and during that time we discussed a variety of different topics, and somewhere along the way the subject of leg hair came up.

“Don’t mind my hairy legs” says Sue’s mom.

“Ha! You should see mine.” Says I.

“Winter is coming.” says Sue’s mom. “I need to stay warm!”

“Absolutely! Otherwise you might freeze.” Agrees I.

Sue sat and stared at me.

I smiled.

“So much for shaving my legs in case I have to go to emergency.” says Sue.

I laughed.

That’s not the first time I’ve heard a comment like that, and I really doubt it’ll be the last.

See, somewhere along the way patients labelled ER staff with a stigma.

The stigma says that we staff have a total aversion to hairy legs, hairy armpits, hairy chests, mismatched underwear, socks with holes in them, or dirty boots.

The stigma says that if we are performing CPR on you, and all of a sudden happen to notice any of the above, we’ll immediately stop.

We’ll step back.

Throw up our hands.

“That’s it!”

We’ll say.

“I’m not saving this person’s life anymore! Their legs haven’t been shaved in a week.”

And we’ll walk away. Wander down the hall. Wash our hands.

Ha. Yeah right.

Sorry, Sue, and all the other patients out there…

If you have hairy legs, or hairy armpits, or a hairy chest, or mismatched underwear, or socks with holes in them, or dirty boots,
we actually won’t stop saving your life in disgust of your body hair or your choice of style.

We’ll actually just ignore it and focus on what really matters: airway, breathing, and circulation.

Yes, we promote personal hygiene.

Yes, we appreciate someone who smells nice.

But no, we will not judge based on if your socks match, or if you just came in from the worksite, or if it’s been two weeks since you scraped a razor over those shins.

So, my tip of the day is, shave those legs because YOU want to shave your legs… not because you feel you need to have perfectly shaved legs (or clean shoes, or matching underwear), in order to impress us.

Trust me, it takes a lot more than perfectly shaved legs to impress us.

Confessions of an ER nurse.

I’m an RN. I recently completed 8 months of ER nursing, and every time I would tell someone in the community about my position, I would receive one of two responses.
Example One: “Wow, that must be so tough. I could never do that.”
Example Two: “You know, I was in the ER a couple months ago. And I waited 8 hours to see the doctor! It’s ridiculous!”

In response to example one, I always say that yes, it is tough. It’s demanding. Working in the ER is busy, and there is never a dull moment for any of our staff. But I can confidently say that every single one of my co-workers loves their job. We do it because it makes us tick. It’s a beautiful thing when a passion and a career meet.

In response to example two,  I always say “I’m sorry about that.”
I know that people often complain about the amount of time they have to spend in the ER.

Most often for patients and family members alike, the complaint concerns time spent waiting: waiting to see the triage nurse; the primary nurse; the doctor. Waiting for lab results, waiting for the IV fluids to finish infusing, waiting to hear the prognosis for the father they see lying on the trauma room stretcher.

Over the past 8 months, I’ve spent over 1500 hours in the ER.

Only a tiny portion of that time was spent waiting.

As an RN, my time was spent receiving or giving report, phoning family members, applying defibrillators, inserting IVs, making toast with a little girl, documenting, reading cardiac rhythm strips, calculating medication doses, bringing the cancer patient another warm blanket, holding an elderly woman’s hand during an exam, triaging hundreds of patients a day, bringing concerns to doctors, coaching a young boy into swallowing his first pill, putting on isolation gown and mask and gloves, assessing a middle-aged man’s chest pain, washing the blood of the hepatitis patient off my arm, injecting analgesic, preparing a body for transport to the morgue, teaching a young boy’s parents about his new diagnosis of diabetes, fixing stretchers, pumping in IV fluids, discussing drug use with a college student, assessing lacerations and pupils and broken bones, patiently receiving “feedback” from irate patients, listening to a young woman cry about her heartbreaking week, interpreting doctor’s orders, researching rare conditions, getting a sugar packet for the homeless man in the waiting room, trying to find out a patient’s identity by going through their wallet, rushing a newborn baby into the resuscitation room, determining if a little girl has measles, hearing the cries of a small child having blood drawn, meeting with my manager about staffing concerns, mixing a Pink Lady for the man with heartburn, running to a “code” up on one of the floors, paging lab and respiratory, administering oxygen, obtaining health histories and medication lists, suctioning the airway for a man during his seizure, emptying catheter bags, sending samples to lab, catching early sepsis in the single mom who had a cough last week, helping a patient understand what the doctor just told them, advocating for an elderly woman who had a stroke, interpreting lab results, hugging the family whose father just died, fetching apple juice and toast for the drug dealer, pushing stretchers, changing bedding, and maybe finally sitting down to write down a couple notes before rushing off to the next thing.

Even though it feels like forever, times spent waiting represent only a fraction of what really goes on in the ER.

The thing is, an emergency room sees patients on a needs-based system. Those who require critical care receive it on a critical basis. They are the ones who do not have to wait, those who are rushed in and immediately surrounded by a gang of nurses. It is those people who often end up with CPR, central lines, catheters, defibrillators, arterial lines, warmed fluids, intubation, mechanical ventilation, rapid blood administration, countless wires and tubes connecting their body to various machines, orthopedic consults, CTs, surgery, or eventually… either a glad nod or a sad frown to their family member in response to the question “How are they?!”

I always say that I’d much rather be the person in the waiting room than the one lying on that stretcher, surrounded by all those nurses and doctors and support staff, connected to all those machines, with my life in the balance.

If you’re waiting, you can wait. Even though it’s tough and likely painful (one way or another), waiting is actually not a bad thing.

So please be patient with us as we care for those who need it most. Because someday, that might be you, and when that day comes you will want your nurse’s undivided attention.

Trust me, I would know. I’m a nurse.

A Salute to the Pursuit of Knowledge | GPRC Salutatorian’s Address 2013

Ten years of 4-H public speaking came to my aid last week as I spoke in front of hundreds of people at my college convocation ceremony.

Several months ago, I was selected as the recipient for the Beth Sheehan Salutatorian Award for Grande Prairie Regional College’s graduating class of 2013.

On May 4th, I stood with thirty-eight other Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates and many other GPRC students as we celebrated our achievements and officially received our certificates, diplomas, and degrees to cross the threshold from student to graduate.

After a long morning of smiling for photos, greeting family and friends, dress malfunctions, and cheering along with my classmates as we celebrated and walked across the stage to receive our degrees, I stepped up to the podium.

It was such an incredible honour to represent my classmates and the college as I gave my address. If you’d like to watch it online, go to https://www.gprc.ab.ca/livestream/archive.html. I begin my speech right around the 2:24 mark (2 hours, 24 minutes into the broadcast).

Hands shaking, heart racing, this is what I said.

Good afternoon honoured guests, alumni, faculty, families, and friends. On behalf of the graduating class of Grande Prairie Regional College 2013, thank you for being a part of our celebrations today; we are so blessed to have you here to commemorate one of the most important days of our careers.

You know, when I prepared for this speech, I made sure to do it in true college style. I procrastinated for a long time, stayed up really late, consulted family and friends on what I should write about, and ended up making a whole pile of rough drafts that just didn’t sound right. After all, what would college be if it wasn’t a whole lot of procrastination and trial and error? And I felt a little weird practicing this speech in front of my mirror and some houseplants and random strangers on the street, so it really is nice to be able to say it to all of you. You’re a much better looking audience.

My fellow graduates, congratulations! We did it. For the past four, maybe five, maybe ten years, we dreamed of this day. Perhaps not all of us looked forward to having to wear funky hats or sit through tons of speeches like this one, but we all anticipated having our name called as we walked across this stage, finally knowing that all the studying, hard work, and sacrifice was worth it. As we near the end of one era and the beginning of another, there are many things to look back on and many things to look forward to.

Someone once said that in order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been. Put yourselves in the shoes of your younger, less knowledgeable, less wiser self when you arrived here for your first day of classes four years ago. Remember the anticipation, the feeling of excitement and nervousness as you came here, scanned the crowds, registered for classes, and then practically promised your firstborn in payment for tuition and textbooks?  You discovered a lot that day, including that these halls are really curvy and sometimes classroom doors like to hide behind plants or staircases or corners. It is beautiful, but can be more than a little confusing.

We didn’t know then what we know now. We have survived four years of obstacles and struggles, balancing life and family and work and school and maybe even sleep every once in a while in a sort of delicate, challenging dance.

From our time here, we’ve learned how to procrastinate, how to write papers the night before they’re due, and most importantly, how to take full advantage of Google and Wikipedia.

We’ve spent a lot of late nights with our noses buried in textbooks, memorizing the Kreb’s cycle and the difference between credits and debits, discovering all about the Civil War and the right way to paint with oils, balancing stoichiometric equations and learning the perfect response when students exasperate you for the hundredth time.

Our perseverance paid off as we gained a whole lot of knowledge, made great relationships with our classmates, got commendations from our instructors, and even sometimes made grades good enough to make the ever-elusive Dean’s or President’s List.

We’ve overcome financial worries and difficulties paying for school, whether we got bursaries or student loans or just ate a whole lot of Kraft Dinner. We’ve overcome fears that we didn’t even know we had, endured personal or familial disease, disability, illness, or loss. We’ve overcome separation from family and friends and loved ones, and most of all, we have overcome doubt and uncertainty and found out who we really were along the way.

However, we know that we did not overcome these things on our own. We have had the help and the support of incredible people who were committed to seeing us through to this day. We have had instructors who cared for us by sharing their knowledge, pushing us, and giving us confidence when we just wanted to quit. We have had the support of countless other staff who inspired us and taught us without ever stepping in front of a classroom. We have been inspired and cheered on by family members, spouses, children, and friends who never let us lose sight of our goal. To all of these fine people, on behalf of our graduates, I say thank you. We couldn’t have done it without you. I hope that someday you realize the difference you have made in our lives and in our careers.

And, after years of exams, deadlines, class potlucks, and Eureka! moments, we graduates have been through thick and thin together. We were good students, but we became even better friends. Thanks to you all for encouraging each other, having a lot of fun, and for making these past four years unforgettable.

We have learned much more within the walls of GPRC than simply what the course outlines describe and what our degrees on the walls tell us. We have learned the most about ourselves; learned how to learn, how to grow, and how to become the people we were meant to be. We will never forget where we have come from, or who has helped us along the way. Someday it will be our turn to encourage and inspire other students as they chase their dreams, maybe even following in our footsteps, through the halls of GPRC and beyond.

There are a few final things that I wish for my class as we graduate today. My friends, we have come so far and achieved so much. Now do not let your drive and your dreams end here. This degree and this graduation day is not the end, but rather the means to an end; it is a part of your puzzle, a thread in your tapestry, a brick in your road, where your achievements, dreams, and passions form the base for a life full of learning, growth, and adventure.

I believe that we can all make a difference in this world. We have influence and power, given to us not only by the new letters after our names, but also by the leadership, passion, and drive that we possess. It is so important to use that influence wisely but liberally for the right reasons, spending our time and our energy in ways that inspire, influence, and change the world around us for the better.

While we’re at it, enjoy the ride. As Miss Frizzle would say, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.” And in the words of Howard Thurman, author, educator, and civil rights leader, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Thank you.

My fellow BScN graduates and I, looking spiffy in our UofA Nursing garb!