34: Ms. Picky

34: Ms. Picky

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Ms. Picky

It’s easy finding reasons why other folks should be patient.

~George Eliot

The day Ms. Picky became the supervisor at the nursing home where I worked as an RN, my secure world crumbled. Of course her name wasn’t really Ms. Picky, but her actions fit the label.

I thought I had the perfect job working part-time caring for frail and elderly residents. My nursing career spanned more than thirty years, most of that time as a critical care nurse. I wasn’t a novice at dealing with stressful and complex situations. I looked forward to each day at work and felt committed and competent in my job. All that changed when Ms. Picky arrived on the scene.

This new supervisor tackled her duties like a runaway locomotive thundering down the tracks. Nothing fazed her and she made changes immediately. About the time the staff adjusted, she changed procedures again. Then she went on a rampage and fired several nurses and nurse’s aides, many without notice or justification. The environment of the facility seethed with tension and hostility. Who would be next to get the axe? For the first time in my life I feared losing my job.

We struggled to make do with a smaller staff. Ms. Picky didn’t hesitate to pile on extra duties and then complained if the work wasn’t finished according to her timetable. I found myself avoiding her as much as possible. I wasn’t above dodging her when I heard her heels clicking down the hallway in my direction. I sometimes even hid in the medicine room until she left my unit.

Attempts to mind my own business, do my job, and avoid conflict did not work. I couldn’t manage to escape the wrath of Ms. Picky. It seemed every time I turned around she stood nearby ready to criticize my work or add a new assignment. She found fault and picked at the slightest issues. “Don’t fill the tube feeding bags so full. The beds should be elevated 45 degrees. Weigh your patients before breakfast. Empty the trash. Order more oxygen tanks. Write new care plans. Clean the IV stands.” Her vocabulary never included “please” and “thank you” nor did she offer a reason for the demands. Not only did she constantly correct my performance, but she did it in front of the residents. I often felt my face redden and my lips quiver as I forced back tears of frustration.

For the first time in my nursing career I was miserable. Every morning before going to work I prayed to get through the day without incurring the wrath of Ms. Picky. In fact, I’d sit in my car in the parking lot and pray again, asking for the strength to endure the criticism and to have the wisdom to somehow satisfy my supervisor. Each day I hoped to survive without being totally humiliated.

Noticing how frazzled I’d become, and tired of my complaints, my husband encouraged me to quit. I had never quit a job and my pride kept me from resigning. Even though I was fed up, I didn’t want to give up. Surely I could find a solution to soothe the savage beast in my life.

Obviously Ms. Picky was not a happy person. No one at work liked her and most of us avoided her as much as possible. Admittedly, she worked long hours. A single mom, she often brought her young son to work on the weekends and evenings. I felt sorry for the youngster, who had to amuse himself in her office while she tackled piles of paperwork. I learned she was taking college courses to earn her degree. It became clear that Ms. Picky had monumental pressures.

I knew if I didn’t change my approach Ms. Picky would be my downfall. I didn’t want to quit my job feeling like a complete failure. So instead of praying for myself that I would make it through the day, I decided to pray for Ms. Picky. Once I started praying for her my attitude changed. Eventually I didn’t even avoid her when she approached. I made myself meet her face to face. Before she could launch into a tirade, I tried my best to pleasantly greet her and inquire about her day, asking about her son and her college classes. I swallowed my pride and even requested her advice on some aspects of patient care.

Ms. Picky gradually shared with me some of her personal problems: her unhappiness about her weight, her struggles with her son, and the adjustment of being in a new city with a new job and no friends. Underneath her tough exterior hid a vulnerable human being.

The more she exposed her inner self, the more likable she became. Much to my surprise, I learned that under her tough exterior she actually had a keen sense of humor. I learned to accept her as a colleague and not an adversary.

I kept praying for Ms. Picky. Before long I found myself once again looking forward to my job. I like to think Ms. Picky mellowed due to my intentional change of attitude. I know my new attitude helped me be more tolerant and less defensive.

Ms. Picky mentioned one day that she had finished her college courses and would receive her degree. Guess who threw her a big graduation party? I did. Not only was Ms. Picky overwhelmed to see the staff gathered in her honor, she entered into the spirit of the party like a friend not a foe. She hadn’t yet earned the title of “Ms. Laidback” but “Ms. Less Judgmental” fit.

On that day I celebrated more than her achievement, I celebrated mine.

~Barbara Brady

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