Helen Cowan, R.N. - Oxford, UK
Having been a nurse for 11 years, I have encountered and experienced tales of joy, inspiration, resilience, frustration, and the darkest despair. Nursing is a fascinating career in its variety of roles and depth of human understanding, and it’s an immense honour to come alongside a patient and make their life, or perhaps just that day, more manageable. This must be remembered when frustrations arise from all corners, sometimes becoming overbearing.
Patients themselves, through no fault of their own, can test the patience, kindness and compassion of the best-intentioned nurse. In my current workplace, I can think of Martha, the desperately underweight, sad lady who refuses our best efforts to help her eat, or Phyllis, the lady with severe constipation who refuses all intervention, or Reginald, the stroke patient who refuses to believe he can ever get out of bed and so, has remained bed-bound for 5 years despite the encouragement of the entire caring team. Then there is John, who shouts for help all day even when staff are at his bedside offering to help in any way. Every day, we think that we will be the ones to really make a difference, and yet we often fail again.
As nurses, we can continue to care for patients like these and treasure every moment where we can help, but it’s hard when everything else seems like it’s against us. For example, the 8-hour shift that becomes a 15-hour shift because there is no nurse to cover the late shift as a result of short staffing. Or the plan to carry out a complex leg dressing or set of blood tests, only to find that there is no equipment. The last straw might be when we feel attacked from all corners when we are just trying to do our best.
During one particularly trying shift, I was approached by a sour-faced inspector demanding answers to questions that seemed to focus on paperwork and not patients, a GP who seemed harassed at being called out to visit a patient with a minor, yet valid, ailment, and a relative with a long list of complaints that should have been discussed with the (absent) management rather than the busy nurse. Meanwhile, the daily newspaper heralded another story about abuse at the hands of nurses.
As this was unfolding, a dear patient was dying and had no family. I took the decision that my most important role was to be with her as she breathed her last breath. I read to her some precious words that I know she had chosen and held her hand as she slipped away. Acting on decisions like this, where I know that patient care has really come first, is what helps to keep me in the complex, and rewarding, profession of nursing.
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