I really wasn’t looking forward to this placement because, not only did I dislike the area (East London) or the hospital, it was also a general male ward. And generally where you get all men, you get burps, farts, snot and phlegm, in no particular order. The first time I was asked to collect mucus made me gag just at the thought, but actually holding a sputum cup half-full with sticky green bodily fluid had me dry-retching and reaching for the ladies. I dreaded the day I had to hold male poo samples.
There was a lovely elderly chap called Derek on the ward, who had prostate cancer along with other age-related ailments. He used to smile and wink at me when he saw the disgust in my face screwed up but I realised I was being unprofessional and managed eventually to arrange my face into something likened to serenity.
Derek loved telling me stories about his life during the war and how, once home with his lovely young wife, they’d never spent a day apart. He also told me that his wife was on another ward down the corridor and he missed her terribly. I’m no Linda Carter (aka Wonder Woman) but before I went off shift that day, despite groans from other nursing staff, I managed to get Doris’ bed wheeled right next to Derek’s for the afternoon. I got to see why they never spent time apart; holding hands, whispering and giggling like teenagers and dipping custard creams into each other’s tea. It was humbling yet I felt proud that I was able to help in some small way.
The next morning Derek’s bed had been moved so I asked a male nurse where he was. With a nod and his eyes rolling upward, he said: “He’s gone upstairs.” When I asked why he replied flatly: “He’s dead!” I stopped by the ladies to dry my eyes before looking in on Doris and her family to pass on my condolences. When I heard the laughter, I wasn’t sure I was at the right curtains but Doris could see my shiny shoes and she called me in. The family wanted to thank me for the humanity shown the previous day and told me how much it had meant to both parents; they’d had their final chuckles and they were both at peace in their own way now.
Most patients love good students on the ward because they’re the only ones who sometimes have time to stop and chat, to ask patients about their needs and wants. While poor nurses are run ragged doing medication and ward rounds, writing notes, and updating no end of needless care plans while phones are ringing and everyone wants a piece of them.
Unfortunately, particularly in large cities like London, most patients have more problems than just the health issue they came in with. There are those who can’t speak or understand English and need interpreters, which comes at great cost to the hospital. They might also have housing and benefit needs or support when they are discharged. Nurses have to make hundreds of phone calls to the various support agencies and social services, taking them away from the very job they trained for; looking after patients.
Note to self: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”