Never Let Her Smell Your Fear

by Chloe Jeffreys · 18 comments

in Adventures as an RN

2014-01-29 12.25.37My current employer must have read my last post because I’ve enjoyed ALL of my meal breaks this past week.

Hal-la-freaking-luja! Now I might survive these 13 weeks as a traveling nurse, seeing as I’m a living, breathing human being who needs food and water at some point during my twelve and a half hour shifts.

The Miracle of Birth

Yesterday I attended a lovely delivery. It was great in all the ways that my job as a labor and delivery nurse can be great.

  • Lovely, loving, committed couple.
  • Supportive yet non-interfering grandmother-to-be.
  • Everybody had reasonable expectations about what labor is (painful) and what labor isn’t (a picnic).
  • And, best of all, a cherubic bouncing baby girl at the end.

What could I possibly have to complain about? Let me tell you.

When the Doctor is a Jerk

The doctor of the day was one of those who feels it is necessary to remind the nurses that she is God Almighty, and we’re just some shit on her shoe. What fun.

Despite being warned about this doctor by my preceptor–who whispered in my ear after introducing me, “Never let her smell your fear”–we’d already had some pleasant encounters, chatting about her book club, and talking about our vaginas. (Hey! It’s L&D. We talk about vaginas there.)

We’d laughed, and we’d bonded, and I thought, “We are going to be BFFs!”

But all of that was the set-up. I’ve seen this behavior from doctors before. They lure you in with friendliness only to smack you down and put you in your place later, usually in front of your patient.

The morning got off to a rough start, with me following behind her like a puppy as she marched towards our patient’s room mumbling under her breath some probably important information that I needed to know.

Seeing as I’d left all my spidey-senses at home, I couldn’t understand a flipping word she was saying, so I asked her to repeat herself. After the second time I asked, she spun around on her heel, and very loudly, in a condescending voice reminiscent of a pissed off school teacher, or my mother, said, “This is the third time I’ve said this, and I’m only going to say this once more!”


I was so stunned that I just stood there, speechless, staring at her. What I wish I’d said was, “And if I don’t hear you this time what are you going to do? Give me a spanking?”

As we stood there staring at each other, I believe I catch a small gleam in her eye.


The game is on.

I hate this cat and mouse game some doctors love to play with nurses. It’s cruel and unnecessary. (And studies show it’s downright dangerous for patients.)

Now it is up to me to figure out what it is she requires from me in order to feel good about herself and assuage that angst she feels about the massive student debt she’s racked up.

Does she need me to lay down like a dog for her to kick because she’s having a rough morning and needs to show someone who’s boss?  Or is this stand-up-for-myself time where I should tell her she can’t treat me like this in order to win her respect?

I just don’t know!

But as I stand there pondering what to say next, I don’t think I let her smell any fear, because I didn’t have fear. I have shock. And shock always shuts me down.

She slowly and loudly repeated her precious words to me like you’d talk to a mentally-handicapped child with a hearing problem.

Now I certainly wasn’t afraid. I was mad. And for me, mad is far worse than afraid.

Having to deal with myself angry is such a pain in the ass. I’d have much preferred fear.

After some additional condescending behavior towards me in the patient’s room, she finally left, and it was just me and my patient. This is the part of my job I LOVE.

Before you know it the mom suddenly exclaims those words every L&D RN longs to hear, “I have to POOP!”

I yank on my gloves and perform a vaginal check only to find I can’t get even a fingertip inside because there’s a big, hairy head right there. You can’t see the head yet, but I can feel her uterus trying on its own to expel the baby, and I know once the mother adds her own expulsive efforts we’ll have a baby in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

I call out to the desk that I need the doctor for delivery RIGHT NOW!

Four minutes later–a lifetime to a woman who has a baby’s head stuck in her vagina and is being forced to pant and blow by her nurse–the doctor arrives.

She storms into the room…

Yes. Storms.

…and demands to know why I’ve called her.

Yes. Demands.

I tell her the patient is about to deliver.

She puts her hands on her hips and asks me whether the patient’s epidural is working, and how long I’ve been pushing with this patient.

Let me remind you that this is all happening in front of the patient and her family.

I tell her I haven’t pushed at all because I thought she might want to attend the delivery.

Arms akimbo, eyes aflame, she clips out her next words to me like she’s slicing them off with a knife.

“So let me get this straight. This is a first time mom who has a good epidural, and you haven’t even pushed with her once. And you’ve called me for delivery RIGHT NOW?”

The patient is lying there listening to all of this!

As I look into her eyes I know exactly how a rabbit must feel when it has been cornered by a hungry fox.

Do I have fear? You damn well better believe it.

And then a miracle happened.

The mother had her next contraction.

I turn my back to the doctor and tell the mother not to pant this time but push as hard as she can.

As the head begins to emerge, I can feel the doctor’s fury slam into my back, while a self-satisfied smile spreads across my face. I wish to God there was a picture of the two of us from the mother’s point of view.

The doctor yells at me, “Why are you having her push before I have on my gown and gloves?!?”

You can’t make this shit up.

I guess I played my hand well because on her way out of the delivery room, she says, “Good job. Good call.”

Unfortunately she was gone before I was out of the room because now I have to wait until the next time I work to tell her that she can doubt me all she likes, but she is never to treat me that way in front of my patient ever again.

And I promise you when that happens, I won’t have any fear for her to smell.

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