A harrowing home visit showed one student nurse that compassion under fire, as well as obstinate refusal to be shocked, are key nursing skills
Nurses have to be compassionate but also shockproof. You get to know this from your earliest placements – or so it was with me.
I’d been sent out for a taste of community work, into a squalid urban area where you could almost smell the deprivation. We – the community nurse and I – climbed the stairs of a block of flats, careful to avoid smashed bottles and discarded needles for fear that we might injure ourselves or contract infections (a professional hazard in these areas). I had a sense that most of the flats were empty – or, rather, abandoned.
A young woman, Emma, lived here with a baby. The social work department was trying to get her moved. Eerily, the door was ajar and we pushed in through a dark hall towards a chink of light.
The place stank of excrement and we could hear an odd noise, half-snore, half-groan, from the end room. Entering, we found Emma draped across the bed with an empty bottle of spirits.
The nurse frowned and, taking her by the shoulders, tried to shake her into awareness, saying: ‘Emma, wake up. Where’s Lily? Where’s your baby?’ But it was no good – she was insensible with drink and could not be roused. We did an anxious search of the flat and eventually heard a cry.
The little mite had been wrapped in a blanket and shoved under the bed but was mercifully unharmed. It had been a tense moment but the nurse methodically phoned for assistance and cuddled the baby.
‘I can’t understand how you stayed so calm,’ I told her later. ‘I’m still in shock.’
She smiled. ‘There are thousands of tragic Emmas in Britain,’ she told me. ‘If we’re going to help them, shock is something we nurses just can’t afford.’
Lesley McHarg is a third-year student in Scotland