The second in another three-part series about what happens to a nurse when they are the other side of the sheets.
The colo-rectal unit with 44 acute beds was extremely busy, with many patients whose needs were far greater than mine. Proximity to the nurses’ station meant I was soon aware of the medical history of most patients, knew who was to be moved to another ward or discharged, and whose relatives had called. I knew who was terminal, who was going to theatre and who was ready for discharge - a state which seemed to depend more on the constant demand for beds than the condition of the patient. The noise was unremitting - a continuous cacophony of bells, alarms, phones, an undercurrent of conversation between staff, suction, footsteps and squeaky trolley wheels: we always knew when the drug trolley was coming.
Proximity to the nurses’ station did not entitle me to more than my share of attention - I learnt why ‘patients’ are called as such. ‘Just a moment’ or ‘I’ll be right with you’ meant about two hours at best; usually other pressures meant your request would be forgotten. One nurse was unable to change my IVI because she ‘hadn’t done the certificate’; she did not find somebody who could, and throughout displayed a worrying lack of confidence and inspiring none in me either. All the nurses worked long shifts; our hearts would sink when we realised she was assigned to our bay for 12 hours.
We were asked to collect bowel motions and urine and would tell staff we had done so; sometimes there would be a half a dozen bedpans in the toilet waiting to be taken measured and recorded. The pressures on the ward at times were phenomenal, but what a difference when the nurses on a new shift arrived, smiling to greet us rather than standing at the foot of the bed to hand over without an acknowledgement to patient’s presence or name; I began to call myself ‘bay 6 bed 6’ to be sure they’d got the right person. The quality of care seemed dependant on who was working; some of the nurses were outstanding, displaying a calm, competent professionalism, whilst others displayed a slipshod indifference, which was unnerving.
I devoted my energy to avoiding hospital acquired infection and other complications; watched the nurses carefully as they changed the IVI to avoid air embolus and reported any bubbles I spotted; ensured the giving set wasn’t reused after its end had been lying on the floor. I worried that I would become dehydrated if the IVI was not changed when it finished. I applied antimicrobial cream to my nostrils three times a day as directed, did regular ankle exercises to avoid DVT, and sat up as soon as I was able so as to avoid pneumonia.
Kate Lloyd is a qualified RGN and Health Visitor, currently employed as a Senior Public Health Nurse.