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Observing Labor Day: A conversation with a Nurse about Disease and disability from the job

Hello Color of Wellness Family! This article is an interview I conducted with a nurse of more than 30 years. In it, we discuss her background, home life, the debilitating effects of her job, and her state of physical wellness today. Please join me in welcoming Mrs. Donna Harper RN, BSN, MBA/HCM, CPC! 

C.O.W.: Hi Donna! How are you? 

Donna H.: Hi Tiffany! I’m doing ok, thanks for asking. 

C.O.W.: Ok so I’m going to just jump right in…what made you want to be a nurse? 

Donna H.: In 1990, I graduated with a degree in nursing. Upon graduating, I was offered a job at the hospital associated with the university, and because I already had 2 years of nursing assistance experience on that unit I was offered the charge nurse position. 

C.O.W: Oh wow…so you went in being charge nurse as a new graduate? 

Donna H.: I sure did! I worked at the bedside for 16 years and got certified in many different skill sets. My last position was not direct patient care but I freelanced as a Travel Nurse in Emergency Rooms at many different hospitals in the area. 

C.O.W.: For those of you who may not know, working 2 nursing jobs is a very common thing. Describe a typical day for you prior to the injury.

Donna: I worked at the hospital for a total 31 years before my world changed. I had an energetic lifestyle; I woke up early at 430 am, worked out till 6:30, showered, and went to work 5 days a week. I walked 8-10 miles a day counting walking during lunch and after work at the track. I tried my best to eat right and keep in shape to stay healthy, or so I thought. It wasn’t until we were going on a family vacation driving to Florida in 2020 that my world changed. I loved to drive so I took the lead for the 10-hour drive, however, 90 minutes into the drive I stopped 3 times to stretch and run around the car because my legs started to feel crampy with sharp pains running down them. When we got to the destination, I was seen at urgent care to help me until I got home. When we returned home, I went to a chiropractor who tried to help, but soon realized my problem was more than he could handle. He sent me to a surgeon which was the beginning of a series of surgeries, blocks, physical therapies, medications, and missed work. During my research on my disease, I came across several articles referring to nurses’ disabilities which piqued my interest. To summarize, a nursing career is a very physical, emotional, and mental career, which takes a lot out of us. We’re on our feet most of the shift which is generally 12 hours. We’re walking down the hall going from room to room, lifting and moving patients, and transporting equipment. I’d like to note most patients are heavy. And let’s not forget the office nurses who sit at a desk for long periods of time which can also cause injury. These injuries seriously inhibit our ability to work and/or prevent us from doing our jobs effectively, which in my case caused increased frustration and became extremely taxing to work. So, the question I’ll leave you with is: what can we do as nurses to prevent these injuries, and/or if we do incur these diseases, how are we to proceed?

COW: I think your story is a great reminder that the jobs we love sometimes come with risks to our physical and mental health. This is why nurses must prioritize their physical and emotional well-being. Also, employers should take a more proactive approach in supporting staff who sustain workplace injuries. As we observe Labor Day this month, we should all be more mindful of how we labor and ensure we have the support of those we labor for. I implore you to assess how safely you labor as well as the engagement and support of those you FOR which you labor.

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