Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reading Faces

A formal study conducted by me over the past 5 days has officially concluded that the difference between a good nurse and a bad nurse is the range of facial expressions each type uses. Whereas bad nurses tend to maintain one static facial expression, regardless of what the patient is asking or how the patient is feeling, good nurses express a wide range of emotions, each customized to suit the present situation appropriately. Often, good nurses combine their different facial expressions with a matching change in speaking tone. It doesn't seem to be too hard of a task to master; it just involves the contraction of a few muscles here and there across the face. For example, when Alan is concerned about a particular issue, I notice that the good nurses draw their eyebrows together and pull them downwards in the middle, causing a slight wrinkle. They might follow this action with a slight hmm... which, amazingly enough, communicates so much. It says to the patient, Uh huh, I'm listening and I hear what you're saying, let me look into that for you.

But then there are the bad nurses, the ones that pretend to be hard of hearing and don't acknowledge what you say. Or the ones that seem to be terribly bothered by any and all requests you might have, even legitimate requests like "May I have that Tylenol now for my 105 degree fever?" These are the ones that must be reminded 5 times about checking your temperature or giving you medicine or finding out why the machine next to your bed is flashing red and beeping irately. These nurses don't make concerned faces. When you are dying and your face is twisted, they look at you and all they see is something insignificant -- you are a washcloth maybe or a comb left by the sink with a few loose hairs caught in its teeth. With their hardened faces and lumps of coal eyes, these nurses communicate I wish I could roll you right out the window so I can go back to chatting in the hallway now about that great Thai food I just had for lunch.

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