Today, I’m finding out how to be a nurse to a dog. Our puppy, Molly, was spayed yesterday. She is doing well but is still getting used to having a cone around her head. Her favorite things are nearly impossible with the cone – chewing, playing by holding a toy in her paws, and of course eating! Labradors are ruled by their stomachs, as anyone who has one knows. And, when eating becomes difficult, whining ensues. Both my husband and I made adjustments for her. And, she is finally now resting although it is almost two hours past her regular nap time. I cannot claim much credit for keeping her comfortable after surgery. My husband deserves her adoration for that attention. But, I did do some hand feeding and watering while he was out in the woodshop this morning. We both have offered lots of soothing petting and calm commands, too.
Still, I can see how the whining will get to us. We’ll have to be sure to give each other lots of breaks over the next ten days while caring for her post-surgically. Fortunately, as I found out recently while visiting my parents, having nursing skills is somewhat akin to riding a bike, or even parenting a young child! Once you have the skills, they return easily for use! I suppose the saying is true, once a nurse, always a nurse.
While I have not formally used my skills as a nurse in over twenty years, I have used them to raise my boys, be a calm parent in the face of illness, and more recently to care for my father and now, the dog.
Simple things like assisting with ADL’s (activities of daily living) come easily to most people. You see what needs to be done or what your loved one needs help with and you do it. But, being comfortable with more complex tasks such as wound assessment and troubleshooting urinary catheters that are leaking, have come in handy lately. It is also helpful to know when to seek additional help and when you just have to muddle through. Fortunately, this has helped with avoiding unnecessary trips to the ER or even walk-in clinics as my boys grew up. We know when an illness is serious and when it is not. That not so small difference is due to the fact both my husband and I have medical backgrounds. We’ve also been very fortunate with our family’s health.
But, recently, what was most surprising to me is how easily I slid back into the role of a nurse after having not been one in a very long time. Truth be told, I moved on to an entirely different career in Environmental Education during the 20 years I was not practicing. But, when I visited my parents in November, my father had three trips to the local emergency room inside of the first two days I was there! He was discharged each time with particular instructions. As a man in his early 80’s, his hearing is not good. Thus, I am glad I was there to help reinforce the instructions, have the doctor speak louder, or just provide an adequate interpretation of what should be done. When we got home from these ER visits, I needed to assist my dad in the bathroom. So, I immediately (without even thinking about it) provided for his privacy by throwing a hand towel over his groin area while I helped him empty the collection bag. When it came time for him to go to bed, my sister (who is also a nurse), rigged up a system to help it drain. We both were comfortable with doing this knowing that beds at home are much lower than beds in the hospital.
One part of my former nursing career I am glad not to have any longer was that of writing prescriptions, not that my parents would have asked. They would not have and did not ask my sister either, who still has prescriptive rights as an NP working with cancer patients. I was licensed for pediatrics, which only encompasses birth to 21, not elderly folks. When I worked as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, I had prescription rights and I used them, daily. Ear infections, asthma, pneumonia, and strep throat were all common occurrences in my patient population. It’s been so long since I practiced, I am not at all in tune with what normal dosing is anyway. I don’t miss it.
But, all the same, I was glad I was comfortable with providing care to my Dad and now, our dog in their time of need. I tend to be a calm caregiver. And, nursing someone back to health allows me to have great compassion and even empathy for them. Although my nursing skills are not what they were when I worked in a Level III Intensive Care Nursery or as a CPNP in a Private Pediatrician’s office, I was relieved to know that my most basic of skills returned without me even having to think of them. The experiences have given me confidence in knowing I can be useful in the days ahead as both friends and family age.