The next night I returned to the PICU, and found that the eleven year-old transferred to the regular pediatric unit on schedule. As predicted, Dr. Eubanks not only discontinued the Fentanyl infusion before the transfer, but the puny IV morphine pushes too. It was out of my hands now. Or so I thought.
Later in the evening, I see the eleven year old’s Dad standing at the nurses’ desk, asking for me. I go to talk with him.
“What did you do last night to get my daughter pain medicine?” He demands.
“Um, I asked the PICU doctor for it,” I said. I didn’t think I should say that this was because I knew the surgeon wouldn’t order it.
“How’s she doing tonight?”
“She had a pretty good day. In the afternoon she rode a wheelchair to the play therapy room, played some games, and then walked back to her room. Right now though, she’s screaming in pain, and her mom and I can’t get her to stop. I asked the nurse to give her pain medicine, and she told me Tylenol is the only thing ordered. We gave it to her, but it doesn’t stop the pain. How do I get her more pain medicine?”
“Oh, boy,” I think to myself. My role of patient advocate is clear; I’m trying to think of how to word my answer without getting fired.
The child’s father, advocating for his daughter, doesn’t allow me this luxury.
“Are you a mother?” he asks.
“Yes I am. I have a daughter about the same age as yours,” I admit.
“So, if this were your daughter, what would you, as a nurse, do to get your daughter more pain medication?”
Silently, I think to myself, “Well, I was looking for work when I found this job…”
Out loud, I tell him the truth:
“Dr. Eubanks is a very good surgeon, but he doesn’t like his patients over sedated, so he doesn’t order a lot of pain medications for them. Your nurse isn’t calling him for more, because he will probably yell at her if she does. She’s afraid of him.”
“It’s only 9 pm. What I would do is tell the nurse I want to speak to Dr. Eubanks, now. She’ll make the call at the desk for you. When you get Dr. Eubanks on the phone, tell him your daughter is screaming in pain, and this is unacceptable; you expect her to be comfortable in the hospital. Tell him you want him to order appropriate pain medication for your daughter.”
“Got it!” He said triumphantly. “Thank you. Anything else?”
“Yeah, if you would not tell anyone that I coached you on this, I’d appreciate it. I’ll probably get written up if the pediatric nurses or Dr. Eubanks find out,” I solicited.
“Not a problem. I appreciate you honesty and help,” he promised, leaving the PICU, presumably looking for his daughter’s nurse.