How do you measure a year?

I love the musical Rent. I am not really a musical person, but I really love that one. There is something about it that really touches my heart. But especially that song. How do you measure a year?

A year ago almost exactly I got promoted which lead to one of the biggest changes in my life. Everything changed overnight: my place of work, my colleagues and friends and I was thrust in a role of leadership after 7 years of being a follower.

I wish I could be cool enough to say it was easy and I slipped into my role of Deputy Nursing Officer like a hot knife through butter. But it was not. There were secret tears. Many of them. I often had a smile on my face when I was full of self-doubt. The tremendous levels of stress got to me. I got hives, diarrhoea, insomnia and my hair was falling out at my nape. I was perpetually worried and exhausted. I work long hours, 6.30am until 6.30pm. Where I work happens to be the biggest ward in the hospital. It is a day care unit, where day surgeries are done, but due to a space crisis, I often arrive at work to find all the beds occupied with medical patients. And of course, the surgeries will not be cancelled so one has to find some way of conducting day cases with no beds available. So you can never plan a scheme of work because you never know what you are going to find in the morning. I swear, the staff and I work miracles. But it is very stressful being in charge and inexperienced in such a place.

And when you are in charge, every problem is your responsibility. And the bigger the ward, the more ample the problems. Medical problems, surgical problems, problems with the filing and records, problems with angry doctors…

Of course, my life does not only consist of work but I have a household to run and a husband to love and take care of, but by the time I get home I’m pretty much spent. It takes a really strong man to be married to a nurse. Or maybe just to be married to me.

My character has changed. I have learnt to raise my voice, to lie to get my own way, how to manipulate and be cunning. Not that I use these new found skills much, but I can’t say that I have never employed such methods in order to get things done. However that being said, I always remain calm and rational. I take the attitude that no problem is too big. My staff respect me and love me for it. I truly feel that love. And thank God for that and for them because it makes unbearable working conditions a little better.

So why am I still there? What has kept me there for a year?

It’s love. I have rekindled a love for my patients. Before I got promoted I only used to deal with sedated patients since I worked in theatres. You feel more like a factory worker than a nurse. A rather sophisticated factory worker I must say, but nonetheless on a production line. But now my patients are awake, young, old, demented, annoying, wonderful, thankful, ungrateful, rich,poor, professors, uneducated : from all walks of life. They make things colourful. A fucking rainbow.

Some of the best bits:

– Since we are meant to be a day surgery unit, we do not have the entertainment stations like the other wards as patients are meant to leave as soon as they are better. Somehow, we managed to bring in this huge, ancient television and set it on a coffee table near the nursing desk. I had a patient with little to no communication skills who would hover around this thing and make noises at it. So I absent-mindedly brought up a chair and turned it on to a football match and helped this man into his seat. And dear God, was he happy. It created a spirit of community because many other patients wanted to watch too. My shift was over and I was saying my goodbyes when this man grabbed my hand and kissed it. I was seriously humbled by his gratitude.

– sometimes patients get a little too familiar:

Patient: nurse! Nurse!
Me: yes sir, can I help you?
Patient: sex!
Me: what about it?
Patient: sex! I want sex!
Me: we’ll I’m sorry I can’t help you with that.
Patient: sex! SEX! SEX!
Me: shhh…stop it please.

Well…it’s not like I can give it to him from the medicine trolley…

– The best way to get to know a patient is by giving him or her a bed bath. It is usually done first thing in the morning, it gives you the chance to examine a patient from top to bottom and you can basically suss out what makes them tick.
Recently we had a patient who did not require a bed bath, but instead of showering preferred to wash bedside, with a basin. He didn’t shut the curtains properly, so when I walked by I saw this guy, stark naked, one foot resting on the bed frame with a towel stretched between his legs, sliding it back to front, drying his balls.
All in a day’s work.
One time while giving bed baths, the nurses found a CD player and there was a cd of old songs. When the song ‘Something stupid’ came on, an old man grabbed me from the desk and did a little waltz with me.

It was beautiful.

– the hospital gowns are often the cause of hilarity. They have improved slightly, with a wrap-over mechanism at the back, but if you are bigger than a size 16 you will be in trouble. And sometimes the ties are too complicated for the elderly. A few days ago there was a man running around the ward bare-arsed. I fixed his gown 10 times but he had continuously managed to undo it. He seemed to be determined to moon everyone.

Yes. 525,600 minutes. A whole year. With a few highs and many lows. But I have grown up so much. I have learned invaluable life lessons. Am I happy? In a way I am. However if a better opportunity were to come my way it does not mean I would not grab it. I never entertained the idea of stepping away from nursing- it’s such a big part of my identity. But in a way, everything seems to run its course. I am a great nurse. I am a great deputy nursing officer. But who says I can’t be a great something else? I have been pigeon holed in this profession since I began studying when I was 18. That’s very young. It leaves me wondering what else I can do. What does the future hold for me? There is not much I can guarantee. But the one thing I can definitely be sure of is whatever I do, I do it with love.

How do you measure a year? In love. Seasons of love.

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