I remember as a young nurse scooting around to fulfill the tasks that were ordained by a ward sister. It was like a Victorian railway timetable – one minute late brought on a heavy frown; 5 minutes late meant an icy blast of sarcasm. At least people were fed and watered by Sister’s almighty hand!
It was during one of these scooting about morning shifts that I suddenly saw Charlie sitting down, slouched back in a chair, feet resting on a table, and puffing contentedly on a cigarette. Let me clear up any confusion this scene may generate – Charlie was not some renegade patient who had decided to break the sanctity of Sister’s kingdom, that would have soon be dealt with (details withheld); oh no!, far worse than that, he was a student nurse, a year ahead of myself, who had suddenly, without any warning, decided that ‘enough was enough’ – the ‘nursing game’ was not for Charlie.
He told me, when I asked him about his behaviour: “It just came over me all of a sudden, a feeling of not belonging here”. He outlined his plans – to help with lunch time feeding (it was a ‘geriatric ward’), then wish everyone the best, before riding off in the distance, never to be seen or heard of again. To what greener pasture Charlie was heading he had no idea, other than it was “somewhere more suited to myself”.
It didn’t take long for the smoke signals to inform Matron what was happening. She marched onto the ward spitting feathers. “What are you doing?”, she demanded, and, almost in the same breath asked “do you know who I am!”. Charlie turned his face toward her slowly and blew smoke signals toward her! “Yes matron, of course I know who you are, why do you ask!”.
The enormity of Charlie’s response to an environment he had suddenly found alien in a moment of instant karma can not be comprehended by any recently qualified nurse. If you think you can imagine what it was like to work under an old time Sister, you are wrong, without being there, it can not be imagined.
It was many years later, when, as a manager, I was interviewing a young lady for a NA job, the memory of Charlie came flooding back. The interviewee informed me that she had been ordered to attend job interviews by the Job Centre, under the threat of having her benefits stopped. She had been working as a prostitute, but had very little to live on after her pimp took his cut. She said,”be kind and just sign this form, I don’t want to be here”. I duly signed, and offered her a cup of tea and three of my ginger biscuits.
Then it came over me. Overseas nurses had recently told me that nursing was one of the only routes out of their country for many – a way of converting time to money, so as to be able to support their family. Nurses and NA’s had told me that nursing was one of the few jobs left after the local mills and factories had closed, and that they saw their job as “better than nothing”, or it “buttering their bread”. Even more recently, nursing students have told me that their main reason for entering nursing was because of its free course.
Charlie’s realisation of not wanting to be in nursing was a sudden and harmless thing, wherehas for many it was an everyday fact that constantly gnawed at them, creating a resentment against the sick, old, and frail people they were supposed to care for. They didn’t care properly for these people because they didn’t care about them. Their minds were constantly elsewhere, counting down the clock till a metaphorical factory hooter sounded to release them into the fresh air of their real lives.
Nursing was just a job.
Of course some will shout, there are, and have always been, good and kind people in nursing. I have not implied otherwise. What I do infer is that there have always been too many in nursing roles who do not really want to be there. True, this applies to many jobs, but the surly coffee shop waitress can only take it out on her customer, who can walk out and think not to return. The sick, old, and frail can not walk away from neglect and abuse.
There is an overiding duty of any caring society to ensure that those entrusted to care actually care. The entire process of selection for caring roles needs to be addressed.
I see nothing wrong with trainee nurses having to work under the spotlight of being a NA for a year; in fact, this could be an accredited part of their course.
Dearhearts, You can not teach uncaring people to care; you can teach them the outward signs of a caring attitude, just as an actor can learn her or his lines, before giving a performance that may fool the audience they are witnessing reality.
A far more terrible reality is often played out once the audience has left, in the small hours of a night shift, in an isolated nursing home bedroom or hospital cubicle.
The searing beam of suitability to nurse should be shone into peoples’ hearts.
lenin nightingale 2015