I’m not going to write this from a research perspective, quoting percentages based on recent studies. I’ve discovered that nowadays you can find causative information to suit your opinion, whatever that may be, based on a plethora of info readily available to anyone well-versed at Google. So instead I’m just going to speak my thoughts from experience. My personal experience as a Registered Nurse in the ICU setting.
So recently I looked over at a physician I have worked closely with for over half a decade and asked, “do you think as a whole the patients are getting sicker?”
It didn’t take him long to agree emphatically, “they sure are!”
I’ve been in the healthcare field for roughly 21 years, and I’ve been a critical care nurse for the last 14 or so. As long as I’ve been a nurse there’s been plenty of “business” to keep us busy, but I’ve seen a big shift in just the last one to two years. It seems like our patient population is becoming more and more critical. The patients are getting sicker. Where you used to have “slow” days occasionally, now that never happens. I can recall getting a high number of people in the ICU who perhaps didn’t require close monitoring, or maybe they weren’t as ill as they initially presented in the ER. They were easily stabilized, and not much blew my skirt up. That’s changing.
Over the last year, it’s become abundantly clear. I can pretty much bet that when I come in I’m going to run my legs off, my adrenaline is going to be pumping the entire shift, and we’ll probably code someone at some point. I’m seeing sicker and sicker people, of all races and ages, and the older I get the younger my patients are getting. It’s not uncommon for me to see multiple patients in their thirties in a week’s time, and these are hospitalizations not brought on by simply trauma like you may think.
So what’s causing the shift? My first thought was the baby boomers. They’re getting older, and now the largest portion of the population is getting sick and hospitalized. They were warning of this back when I was in nursing school, and it’s certainly come to pass. So, yeah, I think that’s a large contributor, but I don’t believe it ends there.
I feel like we’ve certainly gotten better at what we do in the healthcare field, and people that would have died 25 years ago are now living longer to be a patient another day. Our technology and knowledgeable skills are definitely keeping people alive much longer, leading to a higher acuity population as years go by, but also the rising cost of healthcare and health insurance keeps many people from utilizing preventative care. This means many people’s first experience with healthcare is when they end up emergently in my unit. Sad, but true.
But then there’s this little nugget. We are paying for our own pleasures. We exist in a fast-paced world. It’s one where answers are at our fingertips, but we’re usually too impatient to even wait that long. We’re a generation that has plenty but desires more. Enough is never enough. We’re a people who have a calendar, alarm, and reminder notifications on our handheld cell phone, but it doesn’t save us an ounce of time. We rush to and fro, we over-schedule, over-commit, and overdo everything. We are stressed to the max, more-so than any generation before us, in my opinion, and though we know more easily how to care for ourselves, we do not. There’s no time for that. I wonder if we’re getting sicker in part because we so desire to be invincible?
We overeat, eat the wrong things, and skip out on annual checkups. We pay too much attention to what others think of us in this world, and not enough on taking care of ourselves. We are a people who cannot be still, and more than anything we’re lacking rest. Both physically and emotionally. Anxiety and depression levels are through the roof! We can find the local Starbucks, yet we can’t find peace.
There is so much in this world that we cannot control, so many stressors, and we have become a generation that desires control of all the things. It’s crippling. And while we cannot control the world, there are many aspects of our life that we can reel in. These aspects can have a positive impact on our health, I believe. We can slow down. We can stop thinking everything is a must. We can stop putting too high of expectations on ourselves and our loved ones. We can stop trying to be the best at all the things, and just be still.
We can pay attention to our health and our bodies more. I can’t control the rising cost of healthcare, but I can try and eat better, exercise, and get my cholesterol checked. If you don’t like your job you can find something different. You can take a pay cut if you have to. I’d rather downsize my house on my own accord than have to later after a major illness and hospital course forces me to do so. You don’t have to keep up with The Joneses. You just have to keep up with yourself.
In short, we are getting sicker. I can see it. And while there are many factors at play in this, there are only so many aspects that we can even do anything about. But we gotta do something about the things we can manage to alter. We can pay less attention to our mounting to-do list of seemingly important issues, and pay more attention to our personal health. We can eat better, visit the doctor’s office, keep risk factors in check, and listen to the advice of healthcare providers. We can seek help with stress relief and mental well-being. We can make a point to rest more, emotionally and physically.
We can take care of ourselves. Before doctors and nurses have to.