8 Medical Inventions Created by Nurses

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iStock

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.

4. BILI-BONNET

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.

Does the Full Moon Really Make People Act Crazy?

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iStock.com/voraorn

Along with Mercury in retrograde, the full moon is a pretty popular scapegoat for bad luck and bizarre behavior. Encounter someone acting strangely? Blame it on the lunar phases! It's said that crime rates increase and emergency rooms are much busier during the full moon (though a 2004 study debunked this claim). Plus, there's that whole werewolf thing. Why would this be? The reasoning is that the Moon, which affects the ocean's tides, probably exerts a similar effect on us, because the human body is made mostly of water.

This belief that the Moon influences behavior is so widely held—reportedly, even 80 percent of nurses and 64 percent of doctors think it's true, according to a 1987 paper published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine [PDF]—that in 2012 a team of researchers at Université Laval's School of Psychology in Canada decided to find out if mental illness and the phases of the Moon are linked [PDF].

To test the theory, the researchers evaluated 771 patients who visited emergency rooms at two hospitals in Montreal between March 2005 and April 2008. The patients chosen complained of chest pains, which doctors could not determine a medical cause for the pains. Many of the patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers compared the time of the visits to the phases of the Moon, they found that there was no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases, with one exception—in the last lunar quarter, anxiety disorders were 32 percent less frequent. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," Dr. Geneviève Belleville, who directed the team of researchers, said. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems."

So rest easy (or maybe not): If people seem to act crazy during the full Moon, their behavior is likely pretty similar during the rest of the lunar cycle as well.

This story was updated in 2019.

NASA Reveals How Living in Space for a Year Affected Scott Kelly’s Poop

NASA, Getty Images
NASA, Getty Images

When you agree to be part of a yearlong space study, you forfeit some right to privacy. In astronaut Scott Kelly’s case, the changes his body endured while spending a year at the International Space Station (ISS) were carefully analyzed by NASA, then published in a scientific journal for all to see. Kelly submitted blood samples, saliva samples, and cheek swabs. Even his poop was subjected to scrutiny.

As PBS reports, Scott Kelly’s fecal samples revealed that his gut microbiome underwent significant but reversible changes during his time in orbit. In what was surely good news for both Kelly and NASA, his gut bacteria didn’t contain anything “alarming or scary,” according to geneticist Martha Hotz Vitaterna, and it returned to normal within six months of landing on Earth.

Even after being subjected to the challenging conditions of space, “Scott’s microbiome still looked like Scott’s microbiome, just with a space twist on it,” said Vitaterna, who was one of the study’s authors.

The fecal probe was one small part of a sweeping NASA study that was just published in the journal Science, more than three years after Kelly’s return. Dubbed the Twins Study, it hinged on the results of Kelly’s tests being compared with those of his identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth as the control subject.

NASA’s goal was to gain insight into the hazards that astronauts could face on proposed long-term missions to the Moon and Mars. The agency has gone to great lengths to get this information, including offering to pay people $18,500 to stay in bed for two months in order to replicate the conditions of anti-gravity.

It also explains why NASA was willing to launch unmanned rockets into space to collect samples of Kelly’s poop. On four different occasions at the ISS, Kelly used cotton swabs to pick up poo particles. When the rockets arrived to drop off lab supplies, they returned to Earth with little tubes containing the swabs, which had to be frozen until all of the samples were collected. The process was tedious, and on one occasion, one of the SpaceX rockets exploded shortly after it launched in 2015.

The study also found that his telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes, had lengthened in space, likely due to regular exercise and a proper diet, according to NASA. But when Kelly returned to Earth, they began to shorten and return to their pre-spaceflight length. Shorter telomeres have a correlation with aging and age-related diseases. “Although average telomere length, global gene expression, and microbiome changes returned to near preflight levels within six months after return to Earth, increased numbers of short telomeres were observed and expression of some genes was still disrupted,” researchers wrote.

Researchers say more studies will be needed before they send the first human to Mars. Check out NASA's video below to learn more about what they discovered.

[h/t PBS]

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