On average, over 136 million people visit the ER every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control this breaks down to four out of five Americans making their way to an emergency room. There is a long list of what brings people to the ER, from accidents big and small to genuine emergencies — and no matter what time of day, the ER is a place that can generate a lot of stress both for the patients and the caregivers.
The first person you’re likely to encounter on you next trip to the ER or the hospital will be a nurse. They will find out what is wrong, see to your comfort and let the doctor know about your condition. Without nurses, hospitals would simply shut down.
While it may not be overly apparent on the surface, those invaluable nurses work in a dangerous environment. The 136 million visits can also contain the potential for a 136 million workplace hazards aimed directly at nurses. With potential dangers lurking in every hospital room, here are some risks nurses face every day:
- Needle Sticks
If you’ve ever tried to sew on a button or pin on a corsage, then you know how easy it is to get stuck by a needle. No big deal, right? Well, if that needle has come into contact with an infectious virus, then you run the risk of being infected as well.
This is such a serious issue that Congress enacted the Needlestick and Safety Prevention Act to provide additional guidelines and resources to protect nurses. At lot of that precaution has to do with the disposal of all those used needles. That is why you’ll see disposal containers in nearly every room in a hospital. You don’t want to be traveling far with needles.
- Body Secretions
Not a favorite topic by any measure. However, a nurse comes in contact daily with all kinds of body secretions that could contain viruses that result in hepatitis, HIV and a whole host of other harmful infections — of course, there is also all that coughing and sneezing especially around flu season. It’s a wonder more nurses aren’t sicker!
You should never feel insulted if a nurse walks into your hospital room with a mask on. Not only are they protecting themselves, but they’re also protecting the next patient they’re going to see.
- Surgical Smoke
Right next to body secretions, surgical smoke is probably something you don’t want to spend any time thinking about. This would be the actual smoke that is generated when a surgeon uses an electrosurgical device or laser on body tissue. The smoke plumes generated in surgery can contain benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, methane, styrene and hydrogen cyanide. These are more commonly referred to as, “things you should never breath in.”
Often, even the common surgical masks aren’t enough to protect nurses because of the constant exposure. This requires them to take extra precautions before entering the operating room.
- Exposure to Radiation
Healthcare professionals will tell you that there is extremely low risk of radiation exposure when getting an X-ray — but that’s for the patients. For the nurses who are exposed to radiation blasts on a regular basis, that risk grows.
Yes, they will wear those heavy lead aprons to protect from direct exposure, but what about all the lingering radiation in the atmosphere? Think about how many X-rays would be taken on a typical shift. It’s a lot. That is why nurses are encouraged to rotate their time with other nurses on the radiation instruments.
Chronic effects of constant radiation exposure could be nausea, vomiting and, in extreme cases, cancer. All that from helping patients.
- Violent Outbursts
For the most part, people come to a hospital to get better. They do what is asked of them by their nurses, and things run smoothly. Then there are those patients who aren’t down with the program. Whether through dementia, drug abuse or just plain anger, some patients (and even family members of patients) tend to lash out at their nurses.
It’s not uncommon for a nurse to be hit by a flying elbow or a fist. There are also those irate visitors who have unfinished business with a patient. Who do you think will be standing in between them and that hospital room? You guessed it — the nurses.
Show a Little Appreciation
Reading about all these potential hazards should give you a new appreciation for your hard-working nurse. Much like a police officer or fire fighter, they have no idea what the day is going to throw at them. All they can do is call on their training