‘Ask me’.  It’s a question being posed by a little badge now worn by nurses around the country.  It seems harmless enough.  At our little hospital, it means ‘Ask me if I’ve washed my hands’.  Seems like a reasonable and harmless question.  Some places, it probably means ‘Ask me if I have done my time-out,’ or some other little administrative caution.  It’s one more little reminder to ‘do the right thing.’  We get a lot of those these days.  For example, our insurance carrier sends us posters to put up, reminding us of all the things we need to do for every chest pain patient.  Hospital bulletin boards have reminders for us all to be nice and get good patient satisfaction scores.  I saw one that was designed to break down the steps of daily functioning for nurses who apparently don’t know how to do much of anything.  ‘Finish previous task.  Think about what you’ll need for next task and gather supplies.  Clear your mind of all other thoughts and tasks.  Focus on the job at hand.  Breath.  Blink.  Step. Digest.  Oooohmm.’

We probably do need some reminders.  Medicine and nursing are increasingly complex endeavors.  Hospitals and physicians seem to need more money than ever.  Patients want their caregivers to be infallible, give cheaper care and offer drive-thru medicine.  Insurers are desperate not to be sued and plaintiff’s attorneys are watching our every move.  The federal government is looking for fraud and regulatory bodies are creating pages and pages of shiny new good ideas.  Most of us are just happy to get home to our families at day’s end.

Everyone (else) seems to have at least one thing in common:  the realization that no one is more highly trained, more vitally important, more lazy and more dangerous than a bunch of doctors and nurses trying to take care of the sick and dying.  Heck, we even forget to wash our hands!  In the press to be all things to all people in America’s emergency departments and hospitals, it’s easy to forget things.  We all do it, all of us nurses and physicians and paramedics and techs.  We all become so swept up in hurrying and efficiency and error reduction that we could use some prompts.  But then again, so could everyone else.

I was thinking.  Maybe, as we do our time-outs and scrub our hands red, as we smile and get cups of ice and endure abuse with a smile, we could create our own ‘Ask Me’ buttons.  But let’s ask some questions with a twist.  How about some buttons that ask the things clinicians want to ask everyone else?  How about these:

Ask me:  If my opinion has ever been silenced with the threat of firing

Ask me:  How tired I am

Ask me:  If I’m depressed

Ask me:  How many holidays and birthdays I’ve missed with my children

Ask me:  If I’m addicted to caffeine, or anything else

Ask me:  If my hands ever bleed from washing too often

Ask me:  How many times I saw someone last year who never paid my bill, or even cared

Ask me:  About the last time another physician belittled me on the phone

Ask me:  If it’s all what I hoped it would be

Ask me:  What I’d do if I could do anything in the world…other than this

Ask me:  How I feel when I pronounce one more person dead

Ask me:  If I’d recommend this job to anyone else

Ask me:  If I ever fell asleep driving home from nightshift and almost died

Ask me:  How many times I do someone else’s job because they don’t have to, but I do

Ask me:  About how compassionate I feel after 5 shifts, or at the end of a night

Ask me:  If anyone has lied to me today

Ask me:  If ambulances and codes are as exciting now as they used to be

Ask me:  What it feels like to watch someone die and be helpless to stop it

Ask me:  If I think patient satisfaction scores are really accurate

Ask me:  If my own pain is a zero…or a ten

Ask me:  How it felt to be sued

Ask me:  Anything except ‘how much longer?’

Ask me:  How it felt to be assaulted, and have the hospital tell me to drop the charges

Ask me:  What I think about most doctors

Ask me:  What I feel about most chronic pain

Ask me:  How many people I think really need disability

Ask me:  For my views on the social welfare system

Ask me:  How deeply I am moved by the suffering of my truly suffering patients

Ask me:  If I’m still able to cry

Ask me:  How often I wonder when tragedy will strike my family

Ask me:  Instead of someone who doesn’t actually see patients anymore

Ask me:  How I could fix the broken system

Ask me:  How many years, months, weeks, days and hours until I can retire

Ask me:  If I’ve been treated fairly in my contract

Ask me:  Why my wife or husband left me

Ask me:  What my dearest dream is

Ask me:  What gives me hope

Ask me:  Why I still do it

Ask me:  If I ever allow myself to think I’m good enough

Ask me:  What I use to determine my worth

Ask me:  How my day is going, but mean it

Ask me:  Anything…but be prepared for the truth

Never be afraid to ask.

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