I get up at the crack of dawn, comb my hair into a bun and put on my costume and rush to what will be my stage for my twelve hour shift: mater Dei hospital. I am a nurse in charge so one my say I have the main part, often a solo.

I wait for the rest of the troupe to arrive so I can explain what the day’s show requires of them. Some of them are tired, some of them are new, some have been at it a long time and some are past their sell by date. It is a female dominated profession, there are only two men on shift. There are always morning jitters, chit chat and gossip about other nurses, the younger ones trying to suss out my mood. I allocate the patients and the workload and its curtain up. The show has begun. There is no room for error. Every move is being judged. The pressure is immense.

The day begins with bed bathing. The musical notes of water splashing in basins, the delicate chime of voices urging patients to do our will. Working in twos, one nurse anticipating the motions of the other. Is it telepathy or simply experience? Leaping from patient to patient, bed to bed, time is of the essence. Every beat counts in this routine. Sometimes we require the men for lifting and they swoop in, do the job and disappear again. The dramatic thundering of urine bags being emptied into jugs. Sheets, white as snow flap over beds like a swan flaps its wings and are then held down and tightened in unison.

Oh dear, someone spilled the contents of their vomit bag on the floor. In waltz the domestic staff, a veritable fantasia of mops and sophisticated cleaning aides. In a flash, the mess is gone and so are they.

Through the flurry of activity, everything seems calm.

When suddenly, a first year nursing student scurries over from the opposite wing of the ward to warn me that she saw the director coming to visit. The director of nursing and midwifery. A look of panic flushes across the nurses’ faces and they straighten out any imperfections they may perceive on themselves and their patients. Bedside tables are straightened, hair is smoothed out and pulled back properly and uniforms are given the quick once over. Dangly earrings are hastily removed and nail-polished fingers are hidden behind one’s back. Everyone is in position, back straight as an arrow.

The director arrives and now it’s my turn to be under scrutiny. Her beady eyes scan the room and everyone in it. My heart is pounding in anticipation of her verdict. She is notoriously hard to please. It is silent except for the insipid bleep of monitors and feeding pumps. I am focused and functional. Pious, but professional. I prepare for our pas de deux.

‘Is everything alright here?’ she barks.
‘I most definitely think so.’ I reply tentatively.
‘You think or you know?’ she barks again.
‘I know. I most definitely know.’

Satisfied, the director makes her exit.

And everyone collectively lets out a sigh of relief. But it is short lived as then in cascade the doctors for the ward round and completely change the choreography of our routine. They turn everything upside down and our opinion is generally frowned upon. But we do not complain as its all for the good of the show.

Before you know it, it’s lunch time and that’s when the nurses’ aides take centre stage. They bring out the food trolley and its a symphony of chewing and swallowing and chinking of cutlery and sliding of trays.

All is calm. All is quiet. However, in a heartbeat all is disarray once again as the blaring siren of the CPR button has got everyone on there feet, galloping to the other side of the ward where a whole new dance has begun. It is rhythmic and strenuous, the alternating motions of compressions to rescue breaths; and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 all the way to fifteen , two rescue breaths and the sound of the slow heaving of the ambu-bag and begin again. Everyone, stand clear as we give a shock, BOOM. And again, BOOM. And then the shrill monotonous beep of the flat line. Beeeeeep. It’s the only sound. That beep.
The chaplain in his flowing garments sweeps in and performs the last rites and we all bow our heads in disappointment and failure.
And I call it. ‘Time of death: 13.52’.

And the show goes on. Everyone quietly disperses and goes back to their original tasks.

And it is a dance. We have directors and choreographers, students, a huge platform, male counterparts and a backstage crew. There’s joy and drama and sorrow.

And we are the dancers. Us nurses. We struggle, we work hard, we have studied and practiced for long hours to get to where we are. We are overworked and underpaid.

So why do we do it? For the applause. The applause is when a patient gets well. The applause is when a CPR is successful. The applause when a patient who had no hope gets discharged to be with his family. And the applause is thunderous.

At the end of the day, we are the ones who run the show. As the lights go out and the curtain goes down on another shift we all know that there is more tomorrow, with new challenges and new steps to learn.

this piece was meant to be shared for an event called Salon where people socialise and share art through different forms. This time’s theme was dance.

And this is an avocado and walnut salad, because WALnut and WALtz start the same. And this is a food blog.

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