What’s vital about vital signs?

The core of Nursing practice is the Nursing process. This allows the nurses to do tasks in a systematic and rational way. With this, errors are eliminated and high quality care is rendered. The Nursing process involves five important steps –Assessment, Diagnosis,Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation. It’s the famous ADPIE. One of the most important parts in the assessment stage is the vital signs taking. The task is indispensable as it is done before, during, and after any medical or nursing procedure. This is becausetemperature, pulse rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure are cardinal signs. These vital signs are the first indicators of a disease.

Clinical Instructors and PNLE reviewers would joke that the complete description of our degree is BSN, Major in Vital Signs Taking. Looking at it closely, it really isn’t a joke. Three years of clinical exposure made us master the art and technique of vital signs taking.

It may sound simple but a lot of principles should also be observed when doing it. There is a correct sequence in taking the four signs and it differs in adults and infants or on the situation. There is even the proper way on how to wipe the thermometer. Who wouldn’t have even a single memorable experience with vital signs?

I think it was on the second semester of my second year in college when we were assigned in the 5th Floor of St. Paul’s Hospital Iloilo. It was the floor of the “elites” or so they say, because of the suites there. My patient was a post postpartum mother married to a U.S. Navy. She stayed in the biggest suite in the floor. I took my patient’s initial vital signs at 8:30 am just after the patients were endorsed to us. BP taking usually comes last. So I inflated the BP cuff and listened carefully for the Korotchoff sounds. I wondered why I cannot hear them. Then I realized I didn’t put on the stethoscope. 

After a lot of clinical exposure, no graduate of Nursing will have the same embarrassing moment again because I, for one, learned how to take the patient’s vital signs just by looking at the patient, even without using any of the medical equipment or even without seeing the patient. We did not only master the art but also the magic in vital signs taking. The magic happens when the patient is generally well or it is indicated that the patient is MGH (May Go Home) while there is no magic when the patient is in the ICU, NICU, PACU or with other critical conditions. This is to let you know that this is illegal and can be called Black Magic, nevertheless, this happens. Most of the time this falls under the concept of time management. Even staff nurses do this.

It is true, some small things go unnoticed and neglected. This should not be especially when it comes to taking care of our patients. Neglecting this could potentially harm our patients. Our primary focus should always be their safety. Vital signs taking may seem simple but for what do we call them vital?

Remember, small things matter. Small things. They just couldn’t  be taken for granted. 

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