The thing about cowboy boots, as opposed to the soft soles of nurses’ shoes, is that my approach is obvious on tiled floors. Heads lifted from desks and standing body’s turned to greet me as I passed. My heart warmed to hear each, “Welcome back!”
Monday morning routinely began with an update from the Director of Nursing, so I made my way to her office. “Anything happen while I played in the sun?” I said, taking a seat in front of Maxine’s desk.
“You don’t look very tanned for someone returning from vacation at the lake,” she said with a smiling glance at my arms.
“Uh, no? Well, that’s because most of it I spent in bed, sick as a dog; but I’m fine now and ready to work.”
Maxine laughed and stood. “I was just about to make rounds. Want to join me? We can talk as we walk.”
“Great! That’ll help get me away from the lake and back into the hospital mindset.”
As we approached one patient’s room, Maxine said, “This man was admitted before the weekend. The nurses tell me he came in with pain in his neck, but now he’s complaining about his back. Let’s see if he’s better this morning.”
Just as Maxine and I crossed the threshold, the man looked over, letting go a volley of foul words. I recognized a few key words in the midst of his exploding sentences: neck, back, pain, quack, and lawsuit.
The last word didn’t usually find its way into the vocabulary of local complainers, which made sense when I noticed the paleness of his skin. He may be a ranch hand but not from around here. “How long have you been working here, Sir?”
“Who the blue blazes are you,” screamed the man, punctuated by a few expletives I’ve omitted.
“I’m the Hospital Administrator, Sir. We’d like to make your hospital stay as comfortable as possible.” I tapped on my cervical collar as I continued, “As you can see, I’ve had a bit of neck pain recently, too. How’s your neck doing this morning?” If I thought my show of identifying with his pain would soften him a bit, I had grossly underestimated the man’s fury.
“There ain’t nothin’ wrong with my neck; leastwise I can’t tell if there is, ‘cuz my back’s hurtin’ me more ‘n my neck ever did!” More expletives and use of that word, lawsuit.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Sir,” I said, moving closer to the traction apparatus. If I’d not recently been hooked up to a similar contraption, I’d not have noticed the mistake. “Can you point to exactly where your back is hurting, or is it just hurting all over?”
The man immediately pointed to the very spot I’d locked-eyes on. “Yes, I can see that spot may be feeling pressure. I’ll see what we can do to help you.”
Maxine and I crossed the threshold, listening to the patient’s vitriolic spewing ushering us out of the room. “Where did this man come from Maxine? He’s certainly not from around here.”
“He’s one of Wade Hawthorne’s* boys. Came to the Lazy-S ranch earlier last week, I think. Word has it that he fell off a horse, but I’d bet he had a little help doing that. These men aren’t well-liked in these parts, if you know what I mean.”
“So, he’s one of the debtors who failed to pay his casino tab?” Maxine nodded. “Bet he wishes that he’d never seen that game room in Vegas.”
“Yeah. Next time, he’ll probably ask the casino manager if the owner has a ranch in Montana where guys are taken if they don’t pay up. Wade’s usually got of few of these city-dudes working off their debts,” Maxine laughed as she continued, “It’s usually good for hospital business, anyway.”
“It might not be this time, if that traction apparatus isn’t changed. Did you notice the spot he indicated is hurting him now but didn’t before admission?”
“Yes, but how’s that our fault?”
“The traction apparatus goes on the foot of the bed, not the head.” Maxine’s brow furrowed. “I wouldn’t have known either, but when the doctor put my neck in traction, the apparatus attached to the footboard. I didn’t see why then, but this patient’s case makes the reason clear. The pull of the traction tipped in that angle is putting pressure on the spot he’d pointed to when I asked. We are causing him that back pain.”
“But, what can we do? Dr. Henning* ordered it that way. In fact, he put the thing on himself before he left for his four-day conference.”
“How is the order written? Does it just say ‘cervical traction’ using so many pounds?”
“Yes, but we hadn’t had anyone in cervical traction, so Dr. Henning put it up for us. Do you think we can change it?”
“Not only can we change it, we’ll risk a lawsuit if we don’t.”
Maxine and I repositioned the traction gear, while the nurse assigned to this patient quickly dealt with the bed linens. Of course, the man complained quite colorfully, threatening to sue us for making a fool of him by putting him in the new position.
I know what you mean, Sir,” I said smiling as I hung the last weight. “Sometimes it’s necessary to switch directions when the patient finds the first choice doesn’t help him as much as we’d like. Let’s try this one; it’s the very position my doctor in Miles had for my sore neck, and it worked just fine.”
The same proved true for the temporary ranch hand. His back pain left immediately. As his admission orders allowed, the patient left the hospital, contented and feeling a lot better before Dr. Henning returned.
Had I not just experienced this very treatment, I’d never have known to attach the traction to the footboard. What a wonderful provision from the Lord!