Nurses check our pulses, draw our blood, and care for us when we’re sick. But beyond all that, they also create equipment that saves lives and makes living more pleasant.
Over time, nurses have assumed more responsibility for patient care. A 2011 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine pointed out that a number of studies show that primary care services can be administered as safely and effectively by nurse practitioners as by doctors. And having both nurses and doctors in a practice increases patient satisfaction and boosts revenue.
Nurses’ roles also allow them to see medical practices and procedures in a different way, resulting in some revolutionary inventions. Without nurses, we wouldn’t have a number of tools regularly used today in both hospitals and homes.
1. THE CRASH CART
If your heart stops, the defibrillator and resuscitation equipment in a crash cart could save your life. The wheeled set of drawers stocked with equipment, originally called the crisis cart, was invented by registered nurse Anita Dorr in 1968, after years of watching precious time slip away as doctors and nurses procured the proper tools. She created the prototype in her basement, organizing the cart with items needed for the head in the top drawers for easy access. Her crash cart is now used all over the world. Dorr didn’t stop creating there; she also co-founded the Emergency Nurses Association.
2. COLOR-CODED IV LINES
IV lines were made of clear plastic until nurse Teri Barton-Salinas and her sister, Gail Barton-Hay, decided to patent their color-coded lines in 2003 to help reduce medical errors. Barton-Salinas got the idea when she was working as a labor delivery nurse and had to use the lines in newborns. During an emergency, a nurse has only seconds to identify the correct equipment, making easy identification key. “A medication error is every nurse’s nightmare,” Barton-Salinas told the Daily Republic in 2010. “The patient suffers, the family suffers, and the nurse suffers.”
3. NEONATAL PHOTOTHERAPY
Sunlight helps babies with jaundice, a condition that makes infants appear yellow due to high bilirubin levels in their blood. Many babies have high bilirubin levels, which occur when the body creates new red blood cells. Usually the liver helps break bilirubin down, but many babies’ livers don’t work very efficiently at first.
In the 1950s, Sister Jean Ward discovered that sunlight helped her charges. Convinced that fresh air and warm sunlight helped the babies she cared for as a nurse in the premature unit at Rochford General Hospital in Essex, England, Ward would bring the babies outdoors. When she brought one child inside one day, a doctor noticed one section of skin that had been covered by the corner of a blanket was yellower than the rest of the baby’s body. Now medical professionals use phototherapy to treat jaundiced babies.
When those babies went through treatment for jaundice, nurses and doctors would have to fashion glasses out of whatever materials they had available, sometimes using construction paper and cotton balls to cover a preemie’s eyes while the bright lights shined above. In the 1990s, Sharon Rogone, who had worked as a nurse in hospital neonatal intensive care units in San Bernardino, California, created glasses especially designed for the teeny patients. She held them in place with a little bonnet and called the whole thing the Bili-Bonnet. Rogone started her own company, Small Beginnings, and has since created other inventions for preemies.
5. BABY BOTTLES WITH DISPOSABLE LINERS
Watching how nursing on bottles exhausted babies, Adda May Allen, who worked as a nurse at Columbia Hospital in Washington, D.C. in the 1940s, created a disposable liner that moms and hospitals could throw away after just one use. While a baby sucked on a traditional bottle, a partial vacuum formed, inverting the nipple. A plastic liner, however, allowed the sides to close in as a baby drank her milk. "Say, this is a damn sight more important than some of the scientific papers," a doctor told a Time magazine reporter soon after the liner hit the market.
6. A FEEDING TUBE FOR PARALYZED VETERANS
Veterans paralyzed during WWII couldn’t feed themselves until Bessie Blount Griffin, an African-American nurse, invented a tube in the 1940s they could use with their teeth. Patients could bite down on the tube and receive a mouthful of liquefied food, giving them a bit of independence. Griffin was so good at rehabilitation that she earned the name “Wonder Woman.” Invention wasn’t her only profession; she later went into forensic science and was the first African-American woman to work at Scotland Yard.
7. OSTOMY BAG
Elise Sorensen’s little sister, Thora, had colon cancer. After surgery, Thora faced life with an ostomy appliance for her waste, which often smelled bad and leaked with the equipment available. Elise, a visiting Danish nurse, created a solution for her sister in 1954: a plastic pouch that she could adhere to her body. The invention has helped those who’ve had ostomy surgery live normal lives ever since.
8. SANITARY PADS
On the battlefield during WWI, doctors and nurses used a material called cellucotton to treat soldiers’ wounds. The product was five times as absorbent as cotton, which was in short supply. The field nurses also used it unofficially as a sanitary pad, and within a few years of the war’s end, the idea was popularized in the disposable commercial product, Kotex.
So during National Nurses Week, coming up on May 6, be sure to thank nurses for not only what they do, but what they’ve done for the medical field, too.