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January 23, 2006 -- Today Reuters issued a short unsigned piece reporting that a Japanese nurse had just been sentenced to three years and eight months in prison for pulling the fingernails and toenails off six female patients. The piece is predictably running as an "oddly enough" item; Reuters' own headline is "Whatever you do, don't call for the nurse." But the Kyoto sentencing court's reported finding that the woman committed her inexcusable acts "to relieve stress she was under from extra work forced on her by supervisors" might be worth a little more serious consideration in an era of rampant nurse short-staffing.

The piece explains that, in the fall of 2004, the 32-year-old Kyoto hospital nurse tore off the nails of "patients who were immobile after strokes or other illnesses." The story does not try to explain the significance, if any, of the nurse's choice to confine her cruel acts to patients who were female (the gender of most nurses and nursing supervisors). Nor does it say whether the nurse had any history of violence or psychological problems, or offer any larger context as to whether the "extra work" that reportedly motivated her was unusual. Obviously, there is no excuse for intentionally harming patients, and we don't fault the press for covering the admittedly bizarre story. But we also note that many strange and awful things happen when people are placed in untenable situations, and that one way to lessen the risk is to try to improve those situations.

See the January 23, 2006 Reuters' story "Whatever you do, don't call for the nurse."

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