By Mana Shimamura
I first met Mollie Jae when she started to work at the same beer garden as I did in Oakland. Given the high turnover in the service industry, at some point I had stopped trying to get to know everyone who was new. But she stayed, and over time I discovered that she had been a nurse in the Midwest. I found it odd that she had already called it quits at 33. Traditionally, if you have a well-paying job in your thirties, you don’t drop everything and move west to California with no plan. While most might pick fiscal security over opting out of a field they cannot unilaterally change, when Jae felt she could no longer endure the morale of the health care industry, she decided to leave all together and start over.
Jae grew up in Hannibal, Mo. and became interested in nursing in middle school. After watching “Losing Isaiah” in home economics class, a story about a social worker who adopts an abandoned baby, she realized she wanted to work with children.
“When I was young I had the naive notion that I would literally be holding babies all day in the NICU and taking care of them,” she says with a nostalgic smile. While that did occur occasionally, she realized, “You’re not only helping the child, but also helping the family cope through this whole situation, so you are connected with the family.”
While she did actualize her goal of becoming a pediatric nurse, in the process, she also learned about the dismal realities behind the scenes in the world of health care. “Working in the clinical setting and doing billing really brought it out stronger because I got to see all aspects of it.” One thing she noticed was the exuberant cost of some items.
For example, a pulse oximeter, a device that monitors heartbeat and blood oxygen level, is placed on inpatients continuously. The tool is often disposable, and the brand Jae used at her hospital cost them at most $15 to purchase, but the patients were charged $85 each. In the pediatrics department where she worked, babies who were hospitalized could go through four of those a day, since they constantly move around. That means there is an additional $340 daily burden on top of the other expenses the families had to pay.
“They probably don’t get changed as often on adults because they are more aware of it, however, it’s just a sticker. Can you imagine keeping a band-aid on somebody’s finger and it’s $85? And the patients or the family of the patient don’t realize this because they are more concerned, and they should be more concerned, with their health or their children’s health.”
While this might have not been an issue for her patients who had insurance or other means to finance their care, the majority struggled economically, and this was in addition to the other things she witnessed that unnecessarily added to the cost. Some patients might get their discharge delayed and stay an extra night because they were not signed off by their whole team of doctors or have multiple doctor visits for multiple tests, when it would ultimately be cheaper for them to do everything at once.
“I don’t think it’s on purpose. How chaotic the whole health care business has become, they don’t even think of it as a thing.” After a while when she started cutting corners for patients, so they could continue care, she knew she had to get out. She happened to have two friends living in California and with her Jeep and RV she moved to the East Bay and has been living in her mobile home since.
Her hope is not just a complete overhaul of the health care enterprise, but also the way individuals approach health, such as the ease with which we turn to medication to solve every problem.
“Why would you give a patient a medication for bowel movements, when they haven’t gotten out of bed in two or three days and they’re fully capable of getting out of bed?”
“I don’t know if physicians are just fed up that they know the patient just wants a pill to fix it, but in the long term, it’s not the best, and aren’t they there for the best outcome of the patient?” She sees this as one of those things that has become a bad habit but, “It can be broken.”
But sometimes it’s not that simple and Jae understands this. When she worked in a mental health clinic, she experienced this first hand. “I know you can’t fix schizophrenia; however, this happens with all diagnosis, like if a patient is overreacting or combative, sometimes all they need is a different scene or they need a different person to be with them, and then they don’t need to be shot up with Haldol, but our nursing [department] is so short staffed that it’s not an option.”
It’s not necessarily that there are a limited number of nurses throughout, but certain sectors do not have the funding to hire more, such as nursing homes, which Jae says was her hardest job. “That’s the one [where] I would cry on my way home,” she said.
During her year-long stint, she was responsible for a wing of 30 patients to herself, and even after moving non-stop during her 12-hour shift, she couldn’t get everything done. On top of overworking the staff, facilities might not have enough of the items necessary to cater to a patient’s needs.
“I had to tell a patient she had to shit on herself,” Jae says bluntly. She had someone who just had hip surgery and was not yet physically mobile to use the bathroom even with the help of nurses. Usually a bedpan can accommodate those situations; however, they were out. The patient was understandably mortified. “You just stripped them down of all their dignity at that point,” said Jae, who found it “fucked up” that instances like these were not uncommon.
All of this was not only physically taxing, but left her feeling mentally helpless. “You can’t do anything about this, but you’re expected to do something about it.” She was often treated unkindly because she was not able to meet their needs, through no fault of her own.
Not everything was bad. Later on, when she worked in the pediatrics rehab wing, she found it the most rewarding. Seeing children who were in car accidents and had just come out of the ICU, not even able to sit up, and then working with them for weeks and watching them finally be able to walk out of the hospital on their own was a fulfilling part of the job.
Jae is still passionate about health care and the abilities our bodies have to recuperate after trauma. However, she is reluctant to go back to nursing because she does not think the change needed for her to be happy working in that environment will come about during her career. While she doesn’t know where to begin the reformation, she still thinks it’s possible to create a better health care system, with fair funding as an important factor, so no group becomes an afterthought.