Nursing and Our Senses

In the absence of monitoring equipment, there is no need to panic. The human body possesses what we need to carry out a basic, if not practical nursing, life-saving assessment/judgement should things go wrong – our senses!

As nurses, we are grateful for monitoring equipment. The equipment tells us what we need to know at the touch of a button. But we also know that relying on these machines alone can take the skill out of nursing. In the absence of monitoring equipment, there is no need to panic. The human body possesses what we need to carry out a basic, if not advanced nursing, life-saving assessment/judgement should things go wrong – our senses! A nurse needs to tell if something is ‘off’ just by using their eyes, ears and hands. The following are some tips on utilising these senses and acting promptly, thus saving lives.

1. The eyes.
There is no crucial tool to a nurse than the eyes. You can tell a lot just by casting a glance at your patient. Straight away, you can understand how critical they are only by observing their colour, chest movement, a bleeding wound, a swollen leg, urine colour and any other physical signs of distress. Once you’ve noticed an abnormality, you can proceed with caution.

2. The ears
Abnormal sounds point to something wrong – wheezing, gurgling, and stridor. At other times, there are no sounds at all, which would also show a complete airway obstruction sometimes-so, engaging your ears to ascertain whether your patient is making the right sounds. If it is not breathing, they may cry/scream or try to tell you something. Gather the facts with your ears, and from then on, you will be able to act accordingly.

3. The hands
Nursing is a hands-on job. You cannot be a nurse and not get your hands dirty. When faced with a sticky situation, take the time to feel your patient. Feel their pulse, their breath and skin. Are they warm enough, too warm, cold or clammy? That alone can tell you all you need to know about your suffering patient.

4. Smell
There is a lot that a nurse can tell just by using their sense of smell. Be it the smell of your patient’s urine, an infected wound or stools. Once you’ve established something doesn’t smell right, a nurse can proceed with confidence.

5. Taste
In 1674, Thomas Willis described the taste of urine in diabetic patients as ‘wonderfully sweet as if imbued with honey or sugar.’ I know what you’re thinking. Yucky, right? Well, not according to those who nursed in the olden days. Before technology, the way it has, doctors and nurses, in some parts, used to taste urine for infection. Thank goodness we do not have to do that anymore. We have advanced technology now, and we can diagnose at the press of a button.

6. Trust your instinct
Nurses have an uncanny way of using their gut to determine if/when something is not quite right with their patients. That’s what makes them unique. Nurses can achieve this because they are the ones who spend the most amount of time with the patient and offer hands-on care, so they can tell when a characteristic is out of the ordinary, even without medical evidence at first. So if you’re a nurse like me and get that feeling in the pit of your stomach something isn’t quite right, then it probably isn’t. Go with your gut and tell the doctor what you think and let them know your concerns. The worst thing that could happen is you’ll annoy the hell out of the on-call doctor who was getting ready to take a nap after a long day at work. Better to be safe than sorry!

Although machines have made nursing somewhat ‘easy’ these days, I reckon we have all the tools the machines we need to do a reasonably sound nursing assessment. Our eyes, ears, noses, mouths (okay, maybe not so much now) and gut instinct provide us with all the information we need to prevent danger from occurring to our patient. Let’s use them. Done enough times, the confidence and skill you gain from practising with your senses are indispensable. You will feel satisfied and glad, and so will your patient!

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