What if the item to be lifted has dimensions that are unique to itself, is flexible and non-rigid, and comes with aches and pains and its own personality?
Lifting patients in a health care environment has never been a cakewalk for health care providers. True, lift assisting equipment, teams, training and guidelines exist to physically help accommodate the task for health care workers, but none of these were designed to account for the delicacy of a the package, in this case a human being.
And what happens when the human handler becomes the patient? Even when equipped with all of the knowledge necessary to perform the lift herself, for Marilyn Deering, RN BSN at Long Beach Memorial Hospital, being on the other side of the lift was, in her words, “scary.”
It happened four years ago when Deering was recovering from spinal fusion surgery. “I was very uncomfortable, to say the least,” she said.
At the time of the surgery, and currently, Deering was what she calls a “paper nurse,” although she had worked as a clinical nurse for 12 years previously in the Intensive Surgery Unit. “My clinical experience . . . may not be a fair analysis of what is currently being used. But at [the] time, it was very difficult. You would have to depend upon rounding up a number of people if the patient was heavy. Sometimes you would just want to get the work done and do it with less people than you should have,” Deering said.
Back when Deering was a clinical nurse, the hospital, which now employs a Zero Manual Patient Lift program that has dropped its worker injury rates to near zero (see “How They Did It,” The Ergonomics Report, August 2003), was using manual lifting and a few lift assist devices in Deering’s department. One of the lift assists was a Hoyer lift that Deering believed “seemed a little scary for the alert patient; they didn’t like being suspended in the air,” she said.
For Deering, though, even when she became a patient and understood exactly what was happening and why, the potential pain she knew she might be facing during her own handling was immense. “Nurses had to turn me every couple of hours and keep extremely good spinal alignment, so there was manual movement. It was scary and painful,” she said.
According to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), it’s not uncommon for nurses and other health care professionals to develop back injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs); 1998 BLS statistics showed that nurses had double the rate of MSDs and back injuries of all other industries combined that year. The American Nursing Association estimates that 38 percent of all nurses will receive a job-related back injury at some time and point to patient handling, transfer and manual lifting as the greatest contributors to that statistic.
Although Deering understood the hows and whys of the lifting she received as a patient, it still didn’t make the prospect of being lifted any more comfortable. What would have made it better for Deering? “Less strain on [my] spine. Better body alignment,” she said. And in retrospect, as a health care worker, Deering would have preferred a lift system or program that worked more for her and for the patient. “Something that supports the weight of the patient as patients are dealing with stress points,” Deering suggested. “It would need to be easier to use. It would need to [put the patient] in better body alignment, so that the patient is more comfortable.”
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2003-09-01.