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‘Babies have fluid levels?’

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Six months ago I received my second favourite text to date. A picture of an eight week ultrasound and the words “You’re going to be an aunty!”

My sister-in-law’s pregnancy was ridiculously smooth. No morning sickness, no drama, in fact the most exciting things got was when she posted on Facebook about eating pork pies – was she finally experiencing a pregnancy craving? No, she’d just found a really good pork-pie shop.

Things went so smoothly in fact that when, four weeks before her due date, the baby hadn’t turned we all assumed she was just taking her time and all would be fine. But she didn’t turn and remained breech.

As the realisation that she would most likely be having a caesarean hit home it occurred to me that despite my three years of nurse training, I had no idea what was going on.

“They’re going to try and turn the baby” They can turn the baby from the outside? “The fluid levels are the low-end of normal” Babies have fluid levels? “She’s going to be conscious throughout the c-section” She’s going to see the operation?

Whenever I voiced my lack of understanding or grilled any mothers I know about their interpretation of what was going on, I was met with the same quizzical look and the comment “But you’re a nurse – surely you know about all this!” But the truth is that I didn’t know. My training is in mental health and even my general placements didn’t go anywhere near perinatal care. I may be able to recite section-rights in my sleep but advice on anything remotely physical? No chance.

Although the feeling of helplessness is so much more acute when it’s your own family, it occurred to me that I often felt like this working on mental health wards whenever someone came in who had a physical problem.

The word ‘nurse’ covers so many different areas that at times I’m almost hesitant to use it to describe myself. The roles of mental health nurses and general nurses are so different I sometimes wonder if they should even carry the same title. Particularly as public perception of what a nurse is tends to be limited to general nurses, despite nurses being present in all areas of healthcare.

Is this something only mental health nurses experience or do nurses from all specialties have those moments when they feel their knowledge doesn’t quite live up to their Staff Nurse title?

Incidentally, I now have a new favourite text: “Isobel Eve Entwistle born at 11.59 today, all is well with everyone”.

  • Comments (8)

Readers' comments (8)

  • Anonymous

    This is where I say Bring back The Project 2000. In our first 18 months all the specialities were grouped together for practical and theory. I did a stint on a mental health secure unit, a children's ward and a learning difficulties village. We all had 6 weeks on maternity, 2 weeks of which were on the delivery suite. It was a requirement from the UKCC that any nurse qualifying would be able to help deliver a baby in an emergency.

    How times change

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  • Anonymous

    It is a sad reflection on the training recieved across the board, Many years ago as part of the old SRN we has to do placements on maternity and psychiatric wards, while it didnt make us experts it did give us insight. Recentley a friend who had been sectioned had a mild asthma attack instead of giving a nebuliser, which she used at home they blue lighted her to A&E where she was admitted as the unit would not have her back as they did not know what to do!!!! when all that was required was basic observations and nebs as required. This is basic nursing and not rocket science, Please forgive me I do not wish to offened the new generation of nurses but dont they even teach the basics in mental health anymore, even depressed patients have a pulse & BP

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  • Anonymous

    Basic biology - that's all I have to say.

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  • Well, considering all of the four previous comment's, I would not be surprised to hear that this poor student has given up and gone home due to lack of encouragement. Have you all forgotten that starting out as a student, there will be areas of knowledge that you know nothing about albeit everyone has differing levels of knowledge when they start out in nursing. knowledge base grows as a consequence of an enquiring mind confident in the knowledge that if you admit to a lack of knowledge, you will not be mocked and told to get a "Fallopian tube from the stores".
    This kind of lack of support and mocking from colleagues not only undermines and eventually put's off new students, but it also shows our profession in an unprofessional way.

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  • I agree with Lou and applaud Fran's honesty. I must respect any nurse who is not afraid to say 'I don't know'. Surely that is a much more professional (and safe) attitude than to pretend more knowledge than one posesses. I am a registered nurse and midwife and an experienced neonatal nurse, but move me into the area that Fran works, and I would be as a first year student. One other point, how many qualified nurses, in any speciality, would feel totally confident when faced with a serious accident on their way home?

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  • Anonymous

    I agree with a lot of the above comments. I must say although training as an SRN many years before project 2000 giving an insight into mental health or elder care nursing is certainly SOME help but like several other posts it has made me feel very uneasy when being asked to cover our dementia floor (I work in a care home)but with support and guidance anything is possible.
    But a lot of the time many of the things that get blue lighted to hospital need not- however
    We live in a society where we have to cover our backs and need to ensure that we dont miss things -in order to prevent as safeguarding issue arising.
    We can learn from each other-and more than we realise

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  • As an SRN, who did 12 week placements in obstetrics and children's nursing as well as the usual medical and surgical placements I felt I had a well rounded training. I am still working as a Practice Nurse, I draw upon my many years of experience as well as my qualifications to underpin my practice. However, there is always something new to learn.

    I rarely tell a Patient that I don't know anything about the particular thing they are enquiring about, instead I say "this is not in my field of expertise" . I then say I will find out and let them know or refer them to someone whose field of expertise it is. That way the patient generally leaves happily and feels their problem has been dealt with appropriately.

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