12 May, 2008

Happy Birthday, dear Florence

Today is International Nurses Day. Time to tell a nurse how great s/he is and suspend the urge to tell them all about the terrible experience you/your mum/nan/neighbour/uncles drinking mate had at [insert name of district general hospital here] health facility.

What's it all about? Well, it's the anniversary of the birth of the worlds most famous nurse, Florence Nightingale. But I don't want to talk about her. Here's two more less famous but equally wonderful women.

Mary Seacole worked as a nurse during the Crimean War. She applied to help Florence Nightingale and was rejected several times. Undeterred, she made her own way to Turkey and set up a British hospital with her own (borrowed) money, no mean feat for a black Jamaican woman in the mid 1800s. Mary often risked her own life by going directly onto the battlefields to help the injured. Mary was as well known by the soldiers as Ms Nightingale was at the time, and yet it is the image of the Lady with the Lamp that endures. Mary Seacole came first in a 2004 poll and was voted the greatest Black Briton.

Edith Cavell was a British nurse during World War One. She was executed in 1915 for helping Allied soldiers to escape from German occupied Belgium. Her body was exhumed in 1919 and George V led the mourners at a memorial service at Westminster Abbey before her body was taken for burial at Norwich Cathedral.

That's just an overview of two women who were nurses. They did extraordinary things in extraordinary times. I don't know if I could ever do the things they did but I like to think that if I was tested I'd give it a damn good try.

I've been a nurse for more years than I care to remember. I trained in a large, underfunded general hospital in the 8os. It was hard. Really hard. I cried more times than I care to remember. I wrote my resignation letter 3 times in the second year but I stuck it out and I got through. I laughed a lot. I had no money and survived on curry sauce & chips and food parcels from my nan.

I have delivered babies who came into the world before they were due and I have held their mothers and wiped away their tears. I have seen live babies come into the world screaming their lungs out and I have wept happy tears. I have been privileged enough to care for the dying. I have seen human beings at their worst and at their best. I have been verbally abused by 6 foot tall men - and I've given it right back at them - and I've been given more chocolates than I should have eaten. I have met some amazing people. I've been at the centre of medical emergencies, seen some people come back from the brink of death and some pass on, despite our efforts to save them. I've slogged my guts out and got nowhere. I've made old ladies cups of tea at 3am and been overwhelmed at their gratefulness for such a small act. I've pulled other nurses into linen cupboards when I've heard them speaking to patients with disrespect. I've had stand up rows with relatives who've intimidated nurses.

I've watched young women die and leave children without mothers. I've seen families fall to pieces in A & E waiting rooms.

I've watched a young girl lose nine pregnancies in a row and I finally got to hold her beautiful, healthy baby daughter. I'll never forget her as long as I live.

Sometimes I say that if I could go back and do it again I wouldn't but that's a lie. I would. I'd do it a hundred times. Yes, the money isn't that great and the only way I'll ever be able to buy property in Sydney is to sell a kidney but money isn't my driving force. I'm no saint but I'll be able to say at the end of it all that I did good stuff and I enjoyed doing it.

There's no excuse for bad nursing. Not getting things done because you're supposed to be in three places at once isn't what I'd call bad nursing because the nurse can't help it. Poor care, laziness, not making sure your patients are clean, warm, well fed and treated with dignity, that's bad nursing. Being rude to patients, that's bad nursing. Sitting on your arse at the nurses station talking loudly and talking over patients heads, that's bad nursing. If you see it, if you're on the receiving end of it, report it. Similarly, if you see good nursing, let us know about that too.

One last thing, though. If you meet a complete stranger and find out that they're a nurse, for Christs sake don't spend the next hour telling them all about your mum/hairdresser/mechanics dad and the shit time they had in hospital. We didn't do it, okay? It bores us to tears. Talk to us about something completely different. We'll appreciate it more than you can know.


Jacki said...

Well done to wonderful nurses! I have worked with many who I have endless respect for. And I always report good nursing because it is not appreciated enough (I do find though that a lot of services don't seem to know what to do with compliments though).

mscrankypants said...

Brilliant post, SSS. It should be read by every patient and their loved ones prior to being admitted to hospital.

(And hurrah for 1,000 hits on your hit counter!)

HH said...

Great post SSS. My mum is a nurse and I have tremendous respect for nurses. Some people though behave like hideous fools, it is ridiculous. You do a wonderful job and we would all be lost without you!

SSS said...

Well now, in fairness, some nurses would give Nurse Ratched a run for her money!

Dragonfly said...

That was a beautiful post. And hooray for nurses.