The first eighteen months of our uni course included general nursing and students, along with the aforementioned pushers and shovers, made a mad dash for the announcement boards to see where we’d be placed for the next eight weeks and I got ‘Gynaecology & Urology’. This was back in the day when we still had mixed wards, which was shocking and probably embarrassing for the mainly females, due to the nature of the ward.
I was so excited that ridiculously early Monday morning, in my new blue and white striped uniform with my upside down watch and the obligatory shiny new black DM’s. The nurses were all welcoming and there was a nice friendly male nursing assistant, Phil, in his mid thirties, who was to show me around the ward. He seemed to have a good relationships with both the nurses and the patients, a bit on the cheeky side, but he was lazy and would habitually try to fob menial and yukky tasks onto gullible students like me. I quickly let him know that while I don’t mind sharing the load, I was also a mature student who needed to learn certain nursing skills as well as his assistant tasks.
A few weeks in, Phil was grinning when told me to remove a catheter from a male patient and that he’d be back in five minute to check. On his return I told him I’d completed the task and with eyes agog, mouth agape, he paled immediately, thinking that I’d followed his instructions. As students, we all knew, you didn’t carry out such tasks on your own if you’ve never done it before so I didn’t. How would I know you had to deflate the balloon before you removed the tube from the penis?
We’d learned about all the different types of poo while in Uni, one of which was fecal and was one type we’d probably never come across during our training. Anna was only forty-six and had colon and bowel cancer which had now spread to the lymph nodes and she wasn’t expected to recover. She’d called asking for the commode and she was so weak, I had to help her onto it. No sooner had she sat down she said she needed a sick bowl and immediately projectile vomited, propelling runny poo all over the bed and down Anna’s clothes. She was mortified and kept apologising as I stood behind her rubbing her back and saying ‘it’s okay, not to worry. You’re okay Sweetheart.’ while my eyes and nostrils were stinging and I was gagging silently. I really felt for Anna, I did. My heart so went out to her and I burst into tears.
I was sad to leave this placement because the staff were so lovely, always including me in their daily chats, sharing all the chocolates and laughing at me when they saw me heave at the sight of bodily fluids. General nursing wasn’t for me!
However, I’d learned how to make hospital beds, empty bedpans and clean up shit as well as making gallons of coffee whilst at the same time, remembering to document patient care in their notes to be signed off by qualified staff.
I didn’t realise how much I’d miss the patients and the relationships we built during such a short period and the times we’d laughed and cried together. I felt so humbled by this experience, when these lovely people, despite their illness, pain or suffering, shared with me their life stories and their innermost fears and secrets, some of which they’ve never been able to talk about.
Note to self: “Listen to that inner voice of yours. It’s not you, but it’s for you.”