Tuesday, 7 May 2013
Nurses' Week Blog
Before you call it dirty!
There are some who say that to criticise the nursing profession is like throwing your grandma in front of the train! It’s no secret that nurses are overworked and underpaid and yet they keep at it. So what is it about nurses that set them apart from anybody else?
Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole – these were just names to me. Who would’ve thought that one day I would get it?
For those who aren’t in my shoes here’s a snippet of a day in a life of a nurse.
It was one dreary morning when my alarm clock rang. It was that time again. I gave a heavy sigh as I stretched out to silence it. You’d think I would’ve gotten used to the darn thing! The way it seems to ring the minute I close my eyes to sleep. The first few minutes are always the hardest. Nothing a cup of tea can’t fix though!
The day was no ordinary day. Having snowed heavily the night before I was fully aware how the treacherous the roads were going to be. I didn’t think twice about making the cumbersome journey into work. My heart gave a flutter of excitement riddled with a hint of excitement as I contemplated what the day would bring. As I negotiated the slippery roads to work, I managed to cast my thoughts aside for a minute.
With such fondness my mind wondered back to the time I was growing up in Zimbabwe. Back to the days when I used to watch my neighbour in her nurses’ uniform as she trod the dusty road at the back of our house on her way back from night duty. I didn’t understand the story behind her tired looking eyes. I understood her uniform though. That white belted knee length dress which flattered her figure and the brown shoes and stockings to match. The white starched cap pinned at the back of her head was just the icing on the cake. Perfect, just perfect. There was something about the nurses’ uniform that drew me in. Needless to say it didn’t surprise me when I found myself spinning out an essay during an English lesson one morning about how I wanted to become a nurse when I grew up. Now some years later, having undertaken several occupations from teaching to cleaning as well as my endeavours as an author, I have come to realise that being a nurse is in a league of its own.
Florence Nightingale (1820-1920), dubbed the ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ was a celebrated English nurse who believed that she had been called by God to be a nurse. In 1855, during the Crimean War, The Times purported that Nightingale was:
‘a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making solitary rounds.’
Sufficing to say that I’m no Florence Nightingale, but over the years I have discovered something about the nursing profession or indeed vocation as others would like to call it that only someone in my shoes can begin to comprehend.
I once had the pleasure of meeting a certain lady who had accompanied a relative to hospital for minor surgery. As I stamped the ward floors rushing back and forth, the lady walked up to me and towered besides me. I couldn’t help but notice her legs in pointed leather high heels positioned next to my flat black shoes. She rested her slim hands over her tiny waist and I found myself ogling at her long well-manicured nails. All of a sudden I was aware of my own slightly chirped natural nails. I scanned her sleek outfit as my eyes wandered up to meet hers. ‘Excuse me nurse,’ she said her red lip-sticked mouth creasing into what I could not decide was a smile or a sneer. After giving me the run around, tending to her demands, she was frank enough to express her dislike of the nursing profession. ‘It’s a dirty job, I couldn’t do it,’ she said. I couldn’t blame her. I understood where she was coming from – at least I thought I did.
Back to that snowy day.
The emotional roller coaster began the moment I stepped through the hospital doors. A young mother lying in one of the beds told me, as I popped pills into the pot, ‘Do you know they said I have less than 3 weeks to live?’ I opened my mouth to speak but words failed me. What do you say when confronted with such a situation? All I could do was hold her hand and listen. As I looked into her eyes I could tell that was enough. She didn’t need to know how sorry I was because she knew. I didn’t need to preach to her about how there was the possibility of heaven because she knew that too. As the weeks rolled on I watched her deteriorate. And when she finally breathed her last breath, I cleaned her cold, lifeless body and made a pot of tea for her grieving young husband and kids. Good damn cup of tea! As if it could fix anything. This was but the tip of the iceberg.
Don’t get me started on how ungrateful some patients can be. Nothing you do is ever good enough. I know what you’re all thinking. Nurses always say ‘I’ll be back in a minute’ but they never come. Well, excuse me but nurses are expected to do a hundred and one things at the same time. Doctors barking instructions, bells ringing from all directions, patients falling out of bed not to mention the helpless sweet old lady who needs to be fed! God knows there isn’t enough of us to go around at any one given time.
I regard myself as one of the lucky ones having to work in an environment where resources aren’t so scarce. My heart sinks whenever I throw away unused oxygen masks or broken vials of morphine. I toss and turn in my bed in the stealth quiet of the night as I spare a thought for the nurse in the third world. The way she has to watch her patients die of ailments which a course of antibiotics can easily cure. Malaria, measles and pneumonia are still major killers in the Sub Saharan Africa and yet in some countries these aren’t that much of a threat. My heart always pierces when I remember how my step mother died of an ailment she could’ve easily been cured of. A lump engulfs my throat as I recall the sequence of events leading to her death. As soon as I had learnt of her ailment I rushed to the post office and deposited some money. Being a nurse I understood how precious time can be when faced with a medical emergency. I wanted her to have the best care there was and as soon as possible. But alas there was no equipment to properly diagnose the disease. It came as a rude awakening that no amount of money or knowledge could’ve saved her. My mind twirls endlessly at the realities of life in the world that we live in. Not fair, so very unfair. As I do my rounds on the ward I know that I cannot afford to let things get the better of me. I have to keep my emotions in check. After all that’s what a nurse does.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. My job is not without its rewards. The adrenaline rush that I get in ‘touch and go’ situations cannot be explained. The satisfaction that comes with being able to nurse someone back to health is priceless. It is such a privilege to sit there and listen to a complete stranger pouring their heart out during their darkest days or indeed happiest days. So if you see a twinkle in my eyes it is because of that grateful patient who takes my hand every now and then and whispers a ‘thank you dear’ in my ear.
Mary Seacole (1805-1881), a Jamaican nurse, also known as Mother Seacole, was another great lady known for the way she nursed wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. I cannot begin to imagine what she experienced during her time in her conviction as a nurse. As I read her story, the way she sacrificed her resources, time and energy, I suspect she must’ve felt the same kind of satisfaction that comes with being able to touch people’s lives in such a way.
So each time I step through the hospital doors, I do it with a song in my heart. I have no idea what each day will bring but all I know is there is something to be had at the end of the day. I’m still young in the profession and have a lot to learn but something tells me that regardless of where life takes me, I will be able to look back at my nursing experience with great pride. Because that’s what it is- a job to proud of!