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The Next Shift: A sense for the body and spirit

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Theresa Brum, RN

Technology has made the practice of nursing easier in some respects. Electronic charting, computerized order entry and automatic medicine dispensing machines were unheard of when I started my nursing career nearly 40 years ago. Today we have CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds that allow us to accurately examine the human body without invading it. Exploratory laparotomies are seldom needed today.

Prior to all this technology, physicians and nurses had to rely on their senses to accurately assess their patients. Before the days of cardiac echograms, a cardiologist I worked with could identify an enlarged heart by gently tapping around and on the chest. She reminded me of the late Helen Taussig, MD, who was deaf and could identify the rhythms of normal and damaged hearts by touch.

So with all of the available technology, new nurses, I hope you continue to use your senses and not just rely on the technology you have today to care for your patients.


Use your eyes to really see your patients. How is their coloring? Are they pale? What is their respiratory pattern? Are they short of breath? Are they agitated, anxious or depressed? Can they walk or are they bedridden? No machine can pick up on these signs, symptoms and visual cues, but we can at first glance.


Take patients’ blood pressure manually. Listen to the sounds of the heart contracting and relaxing, to an apical pulse and the sounds in the lungs and abdomen. Hear what your patients have to say. Listen as they express their concerns and ask how they are coping with their illnesses. Patients have so much to tell us. Yes, I know we are very busy, but a moment of listening can seem much longer to your patients.
Smell. We all know the putrid smell of a C. diff infection and, after one whiff, we don’t need to wait for lab results to set up the necessary contact precautions.


Hold patients’ hands when they are scared or upset and let them squeeze your hand during a difficult procedure. The human touch can do so much to make patients feel less afraid or to comfort a child. Touch your patients’ skin. Is it hot, cool, dry or sweaty? No machine can give you that information.

Use your voice.

Don’t forget to use your gift of speech in your practice. Use your voice to encourage, soothe and allay patients’ fears and let them know they are not alone. Use your voice to educate and empower them, so they can learn to take better care of themselves. The human body is an incredible machine, but it also houses a soul and spirit.

New nurses, someday I will need your care. Please care for me with the technology you have at your disposal, but also with your mind and heart. Look at me, listen to me and touch me so I will benefit from your clinical skills and knowledge. So I will feel you caring for both my body and my spirit.

By | 2020-04-15T09:14:46-04:00 September 15th, 2014|Categories: National|0 Comments

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