The Shocking Culture of Nurses and the Treatment of Patients with Sickle Cell – Nurse.org

By: Portia Wofford

September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Sickle Cell hits close to home for me. My nephew has the trait. My goddaughter has the disease and is frequently in crisis. Several other family members and friends are also fighting this illness.

One of the most common issues they all deal with is treatment by healthcare professionals particularly nurses when they seek treatment for this disease. Its shameful, but often their symptoms often cause them to be mistaken for:

These are all terms thrown at people with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). The treatment or mistreatment of Sickle Cell patients contradicts our title as the most trusted profession.

So, nurses, what can we do? How do we advocate, treat, and care for this population of patients?

SCD is a group of red blood cell disorders. Unlike healthy red blood cells (RBC) which are round, patients with SCD have RBC that take on a C or sickle shape. Sickle cells die early which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells.

SDC commonly affects those whose ancestors came from:

The only cure for SCD is bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

When sickle cells travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow causing excruciating pain and other serious problems including:

SCD warriors and their caregivers report being stigmatized when they seek care. With patients showing signs as early as birth, nurses attitudes can contribute to negative stigmatization and may affect patients' response to sickle cell cues, potentially causing patients not to seek care and negatively impacting patient outcomes.

Cleverly Changing founder Elle Cole's daughter has SCD. She gives a brief description of an ER visit after a physicians assistant at their primary care office suggested her daughter go to the nearest hospital via ambulance.

Elle recalls, In the ER, the nurse was upset and asked why we were there and which clinic sent us. She stated my daughter didnt need any oxygen, the hematologist was busy (but would come in about an hour), and she needed to get a mucus sample. My daughter was scared and started to cry. Then, the nurse told four nurses to join her, and they proceeded to hold my daughter down and extract the mucus from her nostrils. I was completely terrified! My husband was at work. I felt alone and scared with my daughter.

One mom, Shaynise Robinson, drives three to four hours to seek care for her daughter, because of the lack of understanding from nurses and other healthcare professionals at their local hospital.

In an article posted on Pubmed, researchers found that sickle cell patients in one hospital waited for 60% longer to get pain medication although other patients reported less severe pain. They were also triaged into a less serious category. 63% of nurses surveyed said many patients with sickle cell are addicted to opioids, according to another study. But according to Dr. Alexis Thompson, president of the American Society of Hematology, rates of addiction among SCD patients are no higher than the general populations.

Elle Cole, who has a blog that brings awareness to SCD, wants nurses to be patient. Asking questions that indicate that you are genuinely concerned about your patients wellbeing can help open communication with your patient.

Shauna Chin, RN, says, In my experience, in addition to the pain, many patients with SCD exhibit symptoms of depression. The nurse needs to distinguish between solemness due to pain and solemness due to despondence. Many symptoms of depression go undiagnosed and can be remedied by encouraging health providers to engage in dialogue with the patient. She expresses that nurses can advocate best for patients with SCD by identifying early non-verbal signs and symptoms of pain and anticipate their patient's needs.

Anaya Spearman, RN, BSN, believes more education is needed during nursing school. Noting in the last five years, few co-workers were adequately informed about the disease. SCD was just 'glanced over' and not taught about in-depth, in nursing school, she says. Spearman believes that SCD patients need to have a holistic care approach.

Shaynise Robinson encourages nurses to go through diversity training. Give patients the benefit of the doubt. Understand that they are looking for pain relief and equal treatment, she says. Proper bedside manner is a concern for her as well.

Sickle Cell Disease doesn't just affect the body, but the holistic health of those with the disease. Education and awareness are critical for nurses to provide proper care. Shaynise Robinson leaves us with this: The same compassion thats shown to cancer patients should be shown to sickle cell patients.

To learn more about sickle cell visit:

Sickle Cell Disease Association of America

American Sickle Cell Anemia Association

Sickle Cell Society

Portia Wofford is a staff development and quality improvement nurse, content strategist, healthcare writer, entrepreneur, and nano-influencer. Chosen as a brand ambassador or collaborative partner for various organizations, Wofford strives to empower nurses by offering nurses resources for developmentwhile helping healthcare organizations and entrepreneurs create engaging content. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest.

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The Shocking Culture of Nurses and the Treatment of Patients with Sickle Cell - Nurse.org

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