As ward nurses at Animal Hospital of North Asheville, we think we have the most rewarding job of all! We get to be with our dear patients all day long. Yes, there are a lot of very important, even life-saving tasks that we are responsible for, but we get to form a relationship with each patient and be the caregiver while they are very sick and need more care than the family can perform at home. We are there for them for whatever they need and they come to trust us and know that we really, really care about them.
We are responsible for taking care of all the hospitalized patients whether they are sick or here for surgery and dentistry, as well as patients that are boarding because they have medical conditions that necessitate our care in their family’s absence. We conduct formal ward checks on an hourly basis, much like nurses do in a human hospital; however, patients at AHNA are constantly checked and given attention around the clock. As the ward nurses, we take care of the patients’ physical and medical needs, such as administering medications, administering IV fluids and maintaining the IV fluid pumps, feeding according to patient preferences and medical needs, bandage changes, walking dogs outside every few hours for the opportunity to eliminate, cleaning and disinfecting litter boxes for cats, and carefully monitoring pain levels and performing formal assessments on each patient for any indication of pain. One thing we really like about working at Animal Hospital of North Asheville is that when we go home at the end of the day, another shift takes over so that our patients have around the clock nursing care, pain control and attention.
Ward nurses also serve as the voice of the patient to the patient’s doctor. While the veterinarians also examine and monitor hospitalized patients, nurses keep the doctors informed on a minute by minute basis if there is any change in the patient’s condition, as well as informing the doctor about any changes in comfort level or any increase in pain. We keep very detailed notes on the patient’s 24 hour flow sheet so that the doctor can quickly see exactly what has happened over any period of time such as the patient’s vitals, every medication that the patient has received, all fluids administered, any bodily eliminations made, any food or water consumed, the general demeanor of the pet, and the pain scores. Everything single thing is carefully recorded on a sheet that is set up in hour increments. We certainly verbally communicate with the doctors, but each observation is also well documented. By recording vitals and pain scores on the patient’s flow sheet, nurses and doctors can pick up on escalating pain before the patient outwardly demonstrates that his or her pain is increasing. At our hospital we always want to “stay ahead of the pain” and give pain medication before the pain escalates. It actually takes less medication to prevent pain than it does to get rid of pain once it escalates. So pain scores, careful and frequent observation and recorded vitals are key to patient comfort.
All of the above is extremely important, but there is one more critical element to a nurse’s job at AHNA: meeting the emotional needs of each and every patient. As nurses, we realize that most of our patients normally live very protected lives and rarely have to be separated from the home and the people they love, so we really work hard to hold and cuddle patients and attend to every little desire that we possibly can. Many patients when held or stroked will actually eat much better when they are away from home. We take these steps because as nurses we know that it is much harder for a pet to be hospitalized than a person, because the pet cannot understand why they are here or the importance of the treatments they are getting. Even though they cannot understand our words, we constantly talk to them and actually use words to explain everything we do. Remarkably, it really seems to help. They understand then that we are gentle and kind and really care about them, which certainly helps them to relax.
We are excited about our addition and remodeling, since the new facility will help us to do an even better job at providing a comfortable and quiet environment for our patients. In our cat ward, we really concentrate on being as quiet as possible. Cats are given condos where they have two compartments so that the litter box is not where they sleep or eat. Additionally, most cats want a quiet private place to sleep so we supply the option of a hiding place unless the cat requires constant observation or prefers more social interactions. Each cat has very individual preferences and we cater to what they want whether it is a special food, a special type of litter, bedding, food, way of picking up, or anything else. Our dog ward focus is to give our dog patients plenty of room for soft bedding plus the ability to move around comfortably. We also make sure that dogs do not face each other, since many dogs become stressed when they see each other. We will have plenty of natural light in the new wards, allowing our patients to tailor their sleep patterns to normal daylight. Patients that get good rest and are relaxed actually recover faster!
We always welcome family members to visit and spend time with their pets. We know that it's hard to be away from your beloved pet, and it's hard for the animals to be away from their familiar people and surroundings. Our new facility will have more space for families to spend private time with their pets while also allowing us to attend to their medical needs. As nurses, we know how important is that your pet is comfortable and loved, and we're proud and honored to be entrusted with our patients' round-the-clock care.