I stopped on the San Francisco Peninsula on my way back from Santa Cruz and checked out the Stanford Nurses Strike. Thousands of nurses and supporters have been standing on the picket line that surrounds Stanford and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospitals. As a former nurse myself, I couldn’t help but be inspired by energy. In the least, nurses were celebrating the camaraderie that forms between working nurses, and also having some time off work.
Time off is precious to nurses. Most nursing jobs these days, especially if one wants benefits, require full time employment. However, the physical demands, abuse, and stress that come with nursing do not mix well with full time. Nurses also get tied to these jobs during crucial periods, such as during the night when healthy and sane people should be sleeping. Nurses give up weekends and holidays when they’d prefer to be home with their families, or doing all of the fun and important things that provide value to our lives.
If nurses call in sick, their co-workers pick up the slack. Even now, while the nurses are on strike, it is non-union nurses such as nurse managers or educators who are having to fill in the shifts. No one at the top who sets the terms in these negotiations ever has to work at the bedside.
I am not privy to the details of the strike negotiations. It’s my understanding that the nurses want safe staffing, retirement and mental health care. They want fair wages that can allow them to live in the over-priced Bay Area. The union works with lawyers, economists and retirement specialists who advise on what is fair and what Stanford can afford.
One might argue that nurses already get good pay. This is the case when nurses are unionized. And according to the Economic Policy Institute (2021) when unions exist, they raise wages for both union and non-union workers. Unions also raise women’s wages and reduce racial economic disparities.
I must say that no amount of pay really addresses the difficulties that nurses face. This could be why nurses are leaving the field in droves. In fact, 90% of nurses have considered leaving the profession in the next year (Siwicki, 2022).
In my novel, That Which Wavers with the Night, I present a hypothetical situation at a fictional San Francisco Bay Area hospital. A subplot of the book is the attempted decertification of a nurse’s union. Is the story far-fetched? I hope so. But one never knows what’s about to go down in this country. Not when our voting rights are steadily being taken away, books are being banned, transgender people are being demonized, and our reliance on fossil fuels and removal of environmental regulations are devastating the planet.
In my book I take what’s known as “poetic license.” I learned that term one night when working as a temp nurse at a local jail. The nurse who was training me was saying how frustrating it was when inmates had medical needs in the middle of the night. For one thing, it was usually impossible to get hold of an on-call doctor. She thus taught me an effective trick when an inmate wanted something for pain. She used this trick because inmates would often balk when offered Motrin or Tylenol.
The nurse would take red liquid Tylenol and pour it into a medicine cup. She’d then offer it to the inmate and say “Here, this is acetaminophen.” (The generic term for Tylenol). Usually, the inmate had never heard of acetaminophen. He’d take the drug and then be satisfied, thus illustrating the power of placebo.
“Is that lying?” I asked the nurse.
“No,” she told me. “It’s poetic license.”
Economic Policy Institute (2021, April 23). Unions help reduce disparities and strengthen our democracy. https://www.epi.org/publication/unions-help-reduce-disparities-and-strengthen-our-democracy/
Siwicki, B. (2022, March 24). Report: 90% of nurses considering leaving the profession in the next year. HealthcareITNews. https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/report-90-nurses-considering-leaving-profession-next-year