Have you heard about Flossie the cannibal chicken? If not, you have come to the right place.
Flossie was one of a group of four chickens in a chicken coop. One morning, when the keepers went to feed the chickens, only Flossie was left.
I’m guessing that they quickly reasoned that one of three things had happened.
- Three of the chickens had tunnelled to freedom.
- Evolution had kicked in overnight and three of the chickens had flown the coop.
- Flossie had killed and eaten the other chickens.
A search for clues found no tunnels or discarded chicken-sized mining tools nor any swooping chickens overhead. Flossie, however, lay against a shed wall burping over a pointless toothpick with a bloodstained beak and a drumstick on her lap.
Something went wrong for Flossie and she turned on her own. There is no way back from eating a chicken, unless of course you aren’t a chicken yourself - if you were a fox or a person, it wouldn’t make the news.
Just goes to show that chickens are like every other species - OK I’m guessing about a lot of species - some of them are not very nice. This seems particularly clear when reflecting on our own species.
We can, if we are feeling miserable or touched by self-loathing, notice that in the words of the inimitable and splendid musician Nick Cave: “People they ain’t no good.” The case for the prosecution calls hundreds of witnesses ranging from war, genocide and man-made famine to street violence, the stoning of ambulances and fraud.
I know that for every act of terror or unkindness, there is a rationale or excuse, from “we are carpet bombing people to free them from oppression” to “he was drunk/upset/not himself because he was drunk/unloved/lacking in self awareness” - but the truth is some people are not very nice.
Indeed, some people are difficult. They can be aggressive, confrontational, self-serving and manipulative. They can believe ridiculous things about other people’s rights, religions or haircuts and maraud through life being hateful. If we are lucky, they don’t touch us too much or too often.
But all people are potential patients. Even the nasty ones. While we know
that all patients need to be treated the same - with unconditional positive regard
and empathy, and non-judgementally - constructing that regard and that equanimity takes energy, skill and sometimes our full attention.
Nurses face managing difficult people in difficult situations every day. Some patients can be wearing, spiteful, vicious, unhelpful and even vile. And it is a given that they require the same considered management as “easier” patients. The emotional energy, skill, consistency and awareness required to attend to difficult patients is wholly and unquestioningly assumed.
I wonder if, as nursing continues to come under scrutiny from so many quarters, the consequences of emotional labour should not come under the scrutiny of nursing itself? Do we even acknowledge the need to re-nourish? To articulate the continuing professional development needs of nurses in this area?
The emotional labour of nursing remains all but overlooked, perhaps because it does not fit into the construction of the idea of nursing as a quasi-medical profession. If so, what a strange oversight. A progressive idea of nursing requires more than a focus on knowledge and skills. It requires a professional and educational focus on protecting and rearming nursing values and qualities as well. It requires a collective willingness to re-nourish nurses.