BOOK REVIEW: CRITICAL CARE, A NEW NURSE FACES DEATH, LIFE AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

by Yeong Sek Yee & Khadijah Shaari

Critical Care

This memoir by Theresa Brown is a deeply personal book that details the transformation of an English Professor (who has taught at Tufts University, MIT and Harvard) into an oncology nurse.  This is indeed a noble career change (at mid-life after giving birth to twin girls) from the cozy world of academia to the challenges of a 12-hour day of caring for the seriously ill.  Perhaps, this gives Brown herself a deeper appreciation of what it means to be alive.  And perhaps, this may also be the very reason that persuaded a very successful insurance lady friend of ours to sign up for a three and a half months nursing course so that she can tend to the sick in her free time.

After Brown completed a one-year accelerated nursing program at the University of Pittsburgh, she now works at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre Shadyside, and this book documents her first year as a nurse on the oncology floor.  She gives the reader an idea of the unique role of nurses in health care, giving us a deeply moving portrait of the day-to-day work nurses do: caring for the person who is ill, and not just focusing on the illness itself. Watch Theresa Brown’s video on How Nurses Can Change The Image of Nursing at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQ6F31mINEw

Being in the oncology ward, Brown had first-hand experience in tending to her cancer patients’ needs, both the physical (the rigors of chemotherapy) and emotional (their late-night fears, etc).  Below are some of her comments/findings during her one year stint as an oncology nurse:-

  • Chemotherapy is a Faustian bargain, a deal with the devil.  The luckiest patients, we say, are the ones who are bored, who aren’t dealing with intolerable mouth pain, or nausea or vomiting, or odd rashes, breathing problems, infections, cardiac troubles, nerve pain: the list of side effects is almost endless, and all of the side effects are bad.
  • Patients love the idea of being treated and cured, but they hate how those treatments can wrack their bodies more horribly than their disease ever did.
  • …for some chemo regimens, patients need tests prior to getting the drugs to make sure that their heart, or liver, or kidneys can tolerate the medications.
  • Chemotherapy drugs are toxic, potentially deadly poisons, not just for the GI tract, but for other major organs as well.  Some chemo drugs can damage the heart, others the liver, and some the kidneys.  The lungs can suffer and the nervous system, too, leaving patients with permanent numbness, tingling, and pain in their arms and legs.  Giving patients chemo always involves balancing risks and benefits.  The benefit can be saving someone’s life, but for some patients, the risk is death.
  • As for leukemia…it will take a long time before the world comes to rights again, because the cure for this kind of cancer is almost, but not quite, as bad as the disease.  Patients know they will be treated with chemotherapy, but the reality that chemotherapy is, literally, poison, will not sink in until they’re already in the middle of their treatment.
  • All chemo drugs come wrapped in an outer bag, really just a large Ziplock bag, taped with a caution strip: “Warning: biohazard drug, handle appropriately”.
  • These drugs are dangerous biohazards.  On her floor, pregnant nurses and nurses who are breast-feeding do not administer chemo.  Their gowns and gloves, and the empty containers of drugs once they’ve been administered, get thrown away in special yellow trash cans marked “For chemotherapeutic waste only”.  If chemo drugs “spilled”, special procedures exist for cleaning up the mess. 

Allow us to share with you some additional information why chemotherapy drugs have to be treated as a biohazard: 

  • The pictures on the last page speak a thousand words. Drug companies and hospitals take extraordinary measures to protect their employees. For more information, just click on the following article…HOW DRUG PRODUCERS AND HOSPITALS PROTECT THEIR EMPLOYEES Link: http://www.pharma-cycle.com/chemoeffects.html 
  • Pharmacists and nurses who prepare the chemo drugs before infusion are very prone to various forms of cancer. Visit/Read the following links to find out more:

v  Pharmacists give themselves cancer from dispensing toxic chemotherapy chemical Link: http://www.jmbblog.com/2010/07/pharmacists-give-themselves-cancer-from-dispensing-toxic-chemotherapy-chemical/

v  Lifesaving Drugs, Deadly Consequences Link: http://www.invw.org/chemo-main

If these chemicals are so dangerous to the doctors, nurses and pharmacists dispensing them, how can they be considered “safe enough” to inject into patients who are already suffering from cancer? The whole idea of “safety” in the cancer industry is to find new ways to protect the health care workers from the extremely dangerous chemicals they’re injecting into the bodies of patients. If health care workers need to be protected from this stuff, why not protect the patients from it, too? 

For further reading, we recommend the following:

CHEMO SPILLS

1)    DANGER! DANGER! TOXIC SPILL

Link: http://www.cancertutor.com/ChemoSpill/chemospill.htm

2)    Chemotherapy Spill / Leak  Handling Instructions

Link: http://www.nelifecare.org/doc/instructions/ChemoSpillInstructions.pdf

3)    A Guide To Safe Handling of Chemotherapy Drugs

Link:http://www.ansellhealthcare.com/temps/america/canada/english/university/riskmanagement/guideshcdrugs.cfm

4)    HANDLING LIQUID CHEMOTHERAPY SPILLS

Link: http://stage.smh.com/sections/services-procedures/medlib/nursing/NursPandP/onc09_handling_082109.pdf

SOME YOUTUBE VIDEOS:

5)    Cytotoxic Drug Exposure

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myU4f9jO83s

 6)    Chemo Spill

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iEEHqUm_p0

FURTHER RELATED ARTICLES:

1)    Safe Handling of Hazardous Drugs

Link:http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Volume92004/No3Sept04/HazardousDrugs.html

2)    Health workers fear the dangers of secondhand exposure to chemo drugs

Link:http://www.mlive.com/living/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2010/07/health_workers_fear_the_danger.html

3)    Chemo Drugs Pose Serious Public Health Risks

Link: http://www.ecori.org/public-safety/2012/11/19/chemo-drugs-pose-serious-public-health-risks.html

4)    Nurses Exposed to Toxic Cancer Drugs, Study Finds

Link: http://www.livescience.com/15721-nurses-exposed-toxic-cancer-drugs.html

5)    Chemo’s Deadly Risk for Health Care Workers & Patients

 

Link: http://www.leaflady.org/chemonu.htm

6)     Health Care Workers Risk “Secondhand Chemo”

 

Link: http://www.fairwarning.org/2010/07/health-care-workers-risk-secondhand-chemo/

NB: THIS IS HOW THEY CLEAN UP THE FLOOR IN THE CASE OF A CHEMO SPILL. 

chemo-spill-floor

NB: THIS IS WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOUR HAND  IF A DROP OF THE CHEMO DRUG LANDS ON  YOUR SKIN. WHAT WOULD IT DO TO YOUR INTERNAL ORGANS?

chemo-spill-hand

 

 

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