Good Nurse, Bad Patient

August 23, 2009

I volunteer for the “wood ministry” of a local church, although I am not a member of the church and not a religious believer. After the crew splits wood to donate to elderly people and people in financial difficulties to use for heat, we stop at the church to drink coffee, eat snacks, and chat.

One of the volunteers at the church is Mary, a retired nurse. She checks the blood pressure of many of the wood ministry volunteers. and provides other routine preventive health care services without cost to members of the church.

One day after a work session, I stopped by the office the church lets Mary use when she is helping church members. As I had just bought my own blood-pressure monitor, I wanted to test it against Mary’s monitor to help evaluate if it was accurate.

For some reason, Mary said to me during the course of our conversation, “I am going to tell you a story I have never told anybody else here at the church.”

I was a little surprised. I know Mary and husband are good friends with the Friendly Neighbors, and close to other people in this large church, so I was not sure why she would suddenly choose me, a person she barely knows, as a person for a confidence she had not shared with others she sees more often.

I should add that Mary is a very polite and friendly person, though I would not describe her as bashful or timid. I would also add that my impression is that Mary was a very competent nurse when she was working at her job before retirement.


She began to tell me about how a few years ago she had been almost killed in an auto accident. She had been driving alone along the main highway across our island at night. Another car hit her car head on.

Mary suffered many severe injuries, including a broken jaw, collapsed lung, as well as other broken bones and internal injuries.

“Of all the injuries I suffered, the broken ankle is the one that still troubles me most today,” she told me.

“I was in the hospital for weeks before I could be released. Eventually, I had to testify at a trial because the other driver was at fault. I was given a copy of my medical record to help me prepare for my testimony. As I was looking over the records, I noticed that there was a notation that I was a ‘difficult patient.’

“I certainly was a difficult patient. As a nurse I know that there many serious problems, such as bed sores, and wounds becoming infected, that patients requiring long bed confinement are likely to suffer. There are steps that nurses must take to prevent such problems from occurring.”

As I often do when I am writing a blog post, I looked information about bed sores on the World Wide Web. I learned that medical professionals refer to bed sores as “pressure sores,” and that preventive measures include changing dressings frequently, turning patients, and so on, as Mary told me. Not that I didn’t believe what Mary told me, but as the conversation took place a few months ago, I wanted to refresh my never entirely reliable memory.


Mary went on, “I certainly was a difficult patient. When any of the nurses caring for me neglected to take care of me properly, such as forgetting to turn me or forgetting to change a dressing as often as it should be, I spoke sternly and forcefully to them, and insisted that the job be done properly.

“I am proud to say that I never developed bed sores, and none of my wounds became infected again. I indeed was a very ‘bad patient’ and I am proud of it.”


She also told me that the blood pressure monitor I had purchased seemed to be a good one. I am glad it met with her approval.




3 Responses to “Good Nurse, Bad Patient”

  1. spectrum2 Says:

    I like Mary.
    My son was in the hospital for the first time ever about 2 weeks ago. His nurses were vey good with him. He was in the peds ward, so these ladies were experienced at helping kids. Later on, though, we went back for a finger stick. The phlebotomist was NOT good with kids. I’d only had about one or two moments in my life of hearing someone speak sternly to my child. It is hard to control my temper in these events, as I feel much love for my child. So, I did my best to control myself, but set the lady straight on the fact that he had just been in the hospital for 4 days and was tired of being poked. She got a little better, but I really felt the momma in me coming out at that moment. My son is just 3, and to me that is young. While he is very smart, I cannot blame him for being sad about being poked again. All he did was whine, he didn’t scream or anything bad like run away.
    What goes around comes around. Mary’s nurses need to remember that if they are ever on the other side of the thermometer.

  2. woo Says:

    I like Mary, too. If only we could clone the Marys of the nursing world, our hospitals would undoubtedly be cleaner and healthier with much better ‘patient outcomes’.

  3. modestypress Says:

    Medical care requires a difficult combination of strict kindness and kind strictness.

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