Without even thinking I replied “washing patients’ feet!” Perhaps an odd answer but for me, somehow, it sums up what nursing is all about.
I remember busy shifts when decisions were made to only wash faces, backs and bottoms - getting the essential parts clean because the ward was so busy. It is easy to miss the feet off the list yet so many patients, particularly older people, cannot reach their own to wash them - even when they are well.
I often hear the word ‘basic’ used to describe core elements of nursing work and I worry about what this implies. To me, it suggests something simple and easy. Yet washing and dressing people, changing sheets when someone is critically ill in bed, giving a patient a drink or something to eat - these are all fundamental to comfort and recovery.
As we know, if you get these tasks wrong, everything else will invariably also be wrong. Patients have to be viewed as people and nursing cannot be broken down into small tasks where no one person has a complete overview of what is going on.
So, back to feet.
One of the greatest pleasures for me was to fill a bowl with warm water, put it on the floor and put my patients’ feet into it. Sometimes you could physically see the stress and anxiety drain from a patient’s face as they wriggled their feet in the water. Stopping for a few minutes before drying and moisturising the skin just gave us a little bit of valuable time to talk, for me to find out how they were feeling and what they were worried about.
Unlike other interventions - doing an IV or filling in an assessment - washing feet really is an act of kindness. It takes a little bit of time, but it shows that it matters to you that your patient feels clean, comfortable and ultimately, cared about. It is a lovely thing to do.