I had arrived early for my day shift to cover the emergency exit of another RN. One of my assigned patients was Dotty, a late PM shift admit, a 93-yo who fell at her home in a retirement community and broke her hip. She was scheduled for the OR sometime that day, but even unfixed she wasn’t in too much discomfort. I had looked over her PMH and saw that she was a relatively healthy woman for her age, was somewhat HOH, and was only beginning to exhibit some very mild cognitive deficits.

I was in her room about 0545 quietly changing an IV bag before she awoke, when the door opened and three medical residents came in. One of them greeted her by her first name, asked how she was doing (“I’m FINE!”), and then proceeded to tell her that they would be sending her for an MRI and a bone scan, running a CBC, a Chem-10, and some other labs, and making a decision as to what surgery she would need before scheduling her for a possible THA or IM-nailing sometime during the day. They told her that she would be held NPO but that Nurse Dux would make sure she was comfortable while she waited.

The resident (a 5th year) asked her if she had any questions (“I’m FINE!”), then said he’d see her later after surgery and they all exited. All I could see of her as they left was a pair of enormous eyeballs peeking over the blanket. Since she was now wide awake, I asked her how she was feeling and told her I would be taking her vitals. I was completely startled by her next comment.

“Did you see them too?”

“The residents? Yes, Dotty, I was right here next to you.”

“No, the ALIENS! They were right here in this room! Did you see them?”

Needless to say, I was startled. Believing I might be witnessing hallucinations and the onset of delirium, I asked her, “Dotty, are you telling me you you’re seeing things?”

She looked right at me. “You must have seen them! There were three of them. They were really tall, really green, and they were speaking some space language I couldn’t understand. Will they be back? You won’t let them probe me, will you?”

Resisting the urge to laugh out loud, I just smiled, and sat down at Dotty’s bedside. I held her hand while I explained what had just happened. The “tall green aliens” were three of our Orthopedic residents on their morning rounds. All three are over six-feet tall, and they were dressed in green surgical scrubs and hats. When they came into the room they didn’t turn on the light because the hall light illuminated her just fine—but left them backlit at the doorway. Scott, the 5th year BMOC, didn’t introduce himself or the others, and peppered her with rapid doc-speak – which she couldn’t understand at all.

They got no usable information from her, conveyed no understandable information to her, and had no idea that they had just frightened the bejesus out of this sweet elderly lady. They could have done many things differently – turning on the lights, introducing themselves, sitting down, making sure she had her hearing aids in and her glasses on, making sure she was awake and not in pain, and so on. But that’s not what medical residents are taught to do by attendings, and it would be years before they learned it on their own (the odds of them ever asking for guidance from an RN? slim to none …).

Dotty did settle down as I talked with her, but I sure didn’t fault her for her interpretation of the morning’s events. The pictures of those residents on the unit bulletin board now sport antenna and space helmets courtesy of this RN. I’ve been told that one of them thinks it’s disrespectful. Warms my cockles, it does.

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