OK then, to start off tell us what country/area you live in, how long you have been nursing for, what areas you have worked in and the specialty you currently work in.
I am Australian and live on the Gold Coast in Qld, I have been nursing 21 years and most of that has been Intensive Care and Emergency and I am currently working in ICU.
What made you decide to become a nurse?
In year 10 I knew nursing was where I wanted to be, but got a little waylaid by the temptation of boys, mates, a drivers licence and the call of the wild (night clubs) and ended up falling out of school and into what ever job would support all of the above, so I came to nursing as a mature aged student (of 22) and haven’t looked back since.
Did you find your training prepared you for what actually goes on at the bedside? What sort of things really opened your eyes when you first began working ‘on the floor’?
Even though I am an ‘Older’ nurse I still have very strong memories of being a ‘New’ nurse, I was one of the very first years to go through the Uni and suffered a ‘New Graduate’ year that saw most of my first year in a hospital that was relocated from its beautiful lake site to a hospital that was bulging at the seams. My training prepared me for the patient care but not the intricacies of meshing hospital and uni educated nurses. I was not only one of the ‘new breed’ but I was also one of ‘those’ from the other hospital. It was a baptism of fire and I made a conscious effort never to forget what is was like being a ‘newbe’.
How have you seen the profession change over the course of your career? Do you see a positive future for the nurses that are graduating now?
My aunt (now 72) who nursed all her life and ended up being the matron of the Darwin Emergency department for all of the years I remember until she was forced out through injury (she fell from the roof and hurt her back (in her 60’s) cleaning the gutters) ran her department with military precision once told me she could pick a good nurse purely by gut. This had me thinking long and hard and a little afraid to ask her if she felt I would have passed her scrutiny – but I think there is a little truth to this. The education is important but there is this thing (and I don’t know what to call it) that seems to be within a person that makes them shine and the patient’s can feel it too.
A new grad was looking after a dying man, who had no family and was all alone, she had told me she was a little frightened because she had never done this before, we talked about what needed to be done – wash, prep, paper work etc, and what should be done – a hand to hold and a soft voice as he died. The curtains had been drawn most of the morning and I glanced in to see this lovely lass sitting quietly, holding his hand and talking gently from time to time. Our profession has changed, there are more machines, different and copious charts and obs, more allied health to work with and 12 hour shifts; but at the core whilst there is someone who is there at the bedside caring and holding the hand of a dying man, nursing has a very positive future.
Tell us a story: an amazing, funny, moving or memorable moment from your book of shifts.
I was collecting my son from school after his first camp and had left work early to do so. I was chatting with a mother and she asked how my day had been so far…. I thought back over the last previous 8 hours and wondered how to sum it up. I had started work early as I needed to be out early and started doing some of the education stuff before I had a busy day of meetings. I was called to work on the floor when there was an unexpected admission from emergency of a man who was in urgent need of intensive care management. He was already requiring non-invasive ventilation but needed serious access for inotropic support. It was a mad dash to get everything done to try and give this man a chance of survival. His beautiful wife had left him in the emergency department the night before and he was quite settled and waiting for a ward bed, just a little short of breath and still feeling the after effects of his chemo.
We felt that it was probably a massive pulmonary embolism and worked to treat it and stabilise this gentleman as best we could. His wife came in wearing that look of shock that seems to attach itself to the faces of families whose loved ones end up in ICU unexpectedly. We had managed to stabilise him enough so that he had a fleeting smile when he saw his wife and held her hand for a moment before falling back under the spell of a resistant low blood pressure. His son came in and with absolute shock kissed his dad and then hugged the walls of the room, not wanting to leave but fearing being any closer. We were at maximal therapy and with a very gentle discussion between the family and our lovely ICU specialist it was decided that there was no where else to go as he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer a little while before.
I had my arm around this lovely lady as she heard the words ‘there is nothing more we can do’ and felt her disappear just a little under the shock of what was ahead. I made him comfortable and placed a softer oxygen mask on his face and encouraged the family to sit in the chair’s I had provided. His daughter arrived as he was taking his last breaths and was absolutely distraught, I gently settled his wife on a chair with her hand on her husband’s leg. I took on the role of comforter for his daughter who was battling to get air into her lungs as she had had her greatest fear smashed into her chest when she walked into the room and it was now constricting her ability to breathe without eliciting that guttural sob which so often follows one of these hard fought for breaths.
All three were able to whisper something into their father’s/husband’s ear before he died. It was a gentle death surrounded by his brave and loving family. It always amazes me when a mother knows her children are suffering she always puts them first (no matter how old the children are) and this lovely lady was no different, comforting her grown up children who were incapable of seeing how great their mother’s loss really was. I stayed with them for a little while and then left to give them some time alone with him. They went outside for some fresh air and to call family which gave me the chance to cleanse and remove all the artificial devices we had used to try and save this man and had his body looking more like the man the family knew. Replacing the smell’s of his desperate fight to stay alive with those of clean linen, soap and a hint of the aftershave he always wore.
More family had arrived and I was introduced like I was one of the family as I kept a close eye on my patient’s wife. She was doing brilliantly but I knew she would be going home to her empty house filled with the smells and echo’s of the love of her life that was never coming home again. Her 12 year old granddaughter wanted to see her poppy so she came in with her gran and as they gently wept, this young lass turned to her gran and said ‘I am staying with you tonight, I don’t want you to be alone’ this baby had seen what her mother and uncle could not and I knew this precious lady would be supported by her husbands most cherished pride and joy. And as the family started to leave I went to say goodbye to my patient’s wife and hugged her small, bony frame. She whispered into my ear ‘Thankyou for making his time so easy for him’ and I found the tears that had been threatening would not be stopped, gentle tears of awe… awe at their dignity… awe at being part of the fight, the resolution and the end and awe at being privileged to have shared all of this with a beautiful family.
…..so as I stumbled over the events of my day to the 2pm I was now in, at the school collecting my son from camp, I realised there were no words to sum up how my day had been to this point and so I settled for ‘it has been a rewarding day’.
Not just a nurse: what about when you are not at work? What do you get up to in the rest of your life?
I have to say that my most amazing and memorable ‘outside’ work stuff is my beautiful little family. I have seen a lot and realise that there can sometimes be only a blink between joy and absolute desolation and I mean to enjoy each moment I have with my children before they are off elbow deep in their own lives. My favourite holiday (a pacific island cruise) introduced my children to the wonders of travel and both have plans to do various things overseas. My daughter wants to work in Africa as a zoologist and environmental warrior whilst my son wants to get a job in the Lego factory inventing things for other kids to make. My kids have fostered baby elephants in Kenya and our next big adventure is to get over there and meet them. I have done a lot of travelling and have a little bit of gypsy inside of me and am loving that I can see the echo of her in my kids.
Piss and Vinegar: name 3 things that really get under your skin, push your buttons, or generally irritate you at work or outside of work.
1. Arrogance – any where, we are all equal, treat others as you would be treated and the world would be a far greater place.
2. A Patient with the buzzer left out of reach
3. The sad but very real syndrome of nurses ‘eating their young’! We were all there once!!!
The nurses desk: What is the one thing you would like to say to the rest of the nurses or general public out there.
Be gentle with yourself, it is incredibly hard sometimes and often far easier to be our own worst enemy, we often save that gentleness for our kids, family and others and forget that to truly care for another we need to know how to care for ourselves.