Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Nurses' Day, Nurses' Stories

I was out of the country for the last week, and so missed the chance to post something for Nurses Day on Sunday the 12th. However, visiting the RCN website, I see that they have gathered up the stories of many nurses, a collection of heartfelt pieces about how nursing feels from the inside - much better than anything I could say.

Here is one of the stories, reblogged from their website. I particularly like the way it captures how a nurse's involvement with a patient can be life-changing for the nurse, too. You can read all of the stories here

Being human

There have been some deaths that have had an impact on me over the last few years. My mum, my uncle, his wife and their daughter, and my brother-in-law.  And Sean.

I first met Sean when I had been qualified for but a few years, in the early nineties, and was working as a staff nurse on a locked ward in a large hospital, where it felt like we played darts, table tennis and football for much of the day, and tried to keep control of the ward for the rest.

I don't honestly remember where Sean was admitted from, and don't feel inclined to find out, because that's not the point. I have a few strong memories of him: he was young, wirey and fit, with a head of shaggy black hair. He could climb a drainpipe as if gravity hadn't been invented, and persuading him to come down from the roof of the Victorian institution was not an unheard of event. On one occasion he came down (in his own time, as was always the case) on the 'wrong side'; the side where the rest of society lived. Luckily for society I was there, waiting; recently trained in Control & Restraint (C&R - look it up in the history books), and ready to fulfil my responsibilities under the Mental Health Act (Section 138).

The tussle began as might have been predicted, but quickly took an unexpected turn. Sean started to cry. They hadn't covered this on the C&R course. If Sean had put me in a neck lock, I was prepared. But crying? This was a new one.
Being a conscientious mental health nurse removed many options, but a sense of humanity seemed to leave me with one solution. It was obvious. I hugged him. I hugged; he cried; support finally arrived, and we returned to the ward.

A less clear memory of Sean occurred when he was found cutting his forearm in his bed space, and we intervened. The scenario unfolded safely enough, but, afterwards, a colleague informed me that I had been cut, pointing to the wounds on my arms. It quickly transpired that the sweat and the duration of the restraint had resulted in some of Sean's scabs transferring themselves from his arms to mine.

Fast forward about 15 years. Our careers had separated. Sean has spent time in a high secure hospital, and I have been a charge nurse in a medium secure service for some years. Sean is making good progress and has an identified discharge pathway, it could be a couple of years, but things are looking good. I have been charged with managing our service's new Long Term Medium Secure Service, and Sean has agreed to advise on the admission process from a patient's point of view. His advice is succinct; "Tell 'em how it is straight; don't mess them about; as long as they know the score, they'll be okay." And so it proved to be. Sean the service use expert.

A few more years and Sean had been discharged. A flat, a job, a girlfriend. An unexpected illness and a tragically early death. After all his hard work, Sean hadn't had the time to enjoy the fruits of his very hard labour.

The patients, staff, family and friends who attended his funeral felt a deep and genuine sense of loss. That included me, and it also made me begin to wonder about the way in which being a forensic mental health nurse can affect us, and how (if, indeed, we do) we manage to remain personally balanced and undamaged by the work we undertake. Human.

We feel the impact on us of the acts of others. I wonder if we understand that we, too, can leave an impact on them.

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