Physician writes open letter to senator who claims "nurses play cards all day"

Dr. David Norton. Professional photo.

Dr. David Norton, a Pulmonologist/Intensivist has responded to Washington state senator who, last Tuesday, made  remarks suggesting nurses in smaller hospitals "probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day."

READ: State senator slammed for saying nurses "play cards considerable amount of the day"

Here is his letter:

Dear Senator Walsh -

Fuck You.

Now, the rational part of me would like to say a few words.

Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we speak about things we don’t know that much about and might even do so with great authority. We all do this from time to time. I’m certain that by now, you probably realize you were in error recently when discussing card playing habits of nurses.

First of all - NOTHING happens in a hospital without nurses. Nothing. They are integral in preparing care plans, essential for carrying them out and a vital part of the hospital leadership infrastructure that defines how a hospital runs.

Second - Nobody cares for a patient the way a nurse does. That is not to say that your nurse is the only person who cares about you as a patient, but being at your bedside continually as you fight to live, recover and try to return to being the person you once were is a special role that no other person outside of your family can assume. And for many, the nurse at the bedside can become family during these times.

Third - becoming a nurse is hard and being one is even harder. Compensation is terrible relative to skill set and actual value to society. The day to day work is physically and emotionally demanding. Many nurses, particularly in acute care settings, live with a degree of PTSD and moral distress that would be hard to understand for most. There really aren’t many other professions where this so so to such an extent.

Nurses are oftentimes the first to recognize when a patient is doing poorly and take immediate action. Nurses are in constant communication with patients and families, alleviating anxiety and fear, explaining care plans and exploring in real time the impact of illness on a patient in a way that no lab or study can.

Disease is not actually the enemy - suffering is. Those who have had the experience of suffering in a healthcare setting certainly can appreciate the degree to which nurses shoulder that suffering with their patients.

I have been a critical care physician for about 16 years now and have had the opportunity to work with really really great nurses over the years. I work hard and devote most of my life to trying to figure out how to keep people alive. When all is said and done, all of this would be without value without the partnership I have shared with so many excellent nurses. My decisions are worse when I don’t listen to my nursing colleagues and much better when I do.

They are amazing in a way that you will never understand, and I don’t blame you for that since your experience is far removed from theirs. You have an ignorance on the topic that is understandable and born of your inexperience rather than any malicious intent, I hope and assume.

Where I take exception with your comments is that you are not affording them the respect that they deserve and the error on that point should be understood after more careful reflection. In short, you clearly owe an entire profession an apology.

Finally, and I don’t know you, but you are not young. You don’t strike me as the model of perfect health - none of us are. You will certainly need the help of a nurse at some point. When you do, I hope you think back to this moment and thank your lucky stars that you were wrong when you see all those nurses at your bedside - and not one will be playing cards.

If you would like to thank Dr. Norton for his kind words, you may do so here.

The Gayly. 4/20/2019 @ 6:19 p.m. CST.