Nursing Times blogger Martin Jones takes us through his thoughts as an old nursing injury gives him time alone to reflect on the sociality of his profession.
Last Saturday evening I leaned to click the computer mouse as I walked past it, twisting awkwardly and aggravating an old nursing injury in my lower back. I re-sent the unwanted echo from the bad old days when I lifted heavy patients in the 1980s. I feel it regularly - say, after gardening, but have put plenty of time and effort into maintenance and prevention. I’m fit and active and go to the gym. It hadn’t been so painful or disabling for years.
Alcohol, paracetamol and my refusal to cancel saw me through a dinner party. However, I rose unable to dress independently, my wife helping me on with boxers, trousers, socks and shoes. A trip to our walk-in GP was inevitable. What a good service: a modern premises away from the hospital’s accident and emergency department (which I did not need) and it is open 8am until 8pm seven days a-week. Dosed with stronger pain-killers, I was determined to get on with things.
Unable to ride my bike as usual, I walked in to work on Tuesday. Sitting down was a problem; HIV clinic is a largely sedentary activity. I struggled on for three and a half hours before accepting the inevitable: I had to walk home, unfit for work. This is an unfamiliar state of affairs. In 16 years in Eastbourne’s sexual health clinic I’ve had far fewer than 16 days off sick. I’ve hated the last week.
Nursing is a social business: listening, talking, interacting. The HIV clinic is especially social as I’m seeing patients - some of whom I have known for six, eight, 10, 12 years and more. I’ve known them during times of crisis and extreme ill health; they’ve shared with me their hopes, fears and intimacies. While taking blood samples we’ve chatted more generally about partners, families, friends, jobs, entertainment, the price of fish. I’ve missed the company. No patients, no colleagues.
I have also had to recognise that the clinic can manage perfectly well without me. I ‘popped in’ during a therapeutic walk and of course my excellent fellow HIV nurse had everything under control. I was off sick and surplus to requirements. It’s salutary to recognise that the world keeps spinning without me.
I spent the rest of the week on codeine and paracetamol, taking walks and visiting a chiropractor. Improvement has been slow, although I can now dress independently with a little careful reaching. By Saturday I was fed up with solitude, analgesia and its side effects. I’m moving cautiously and am able to sit again – hence this blog - so it’s back to work tomorrow to pick up where I left off and survey my blemished sickness record.
Thinking about my (short) time off makes me reflect on some of my patients and how their lives have been significantly changed by sickness and disability. By comparison I have little to grumble about. This has been a thoroughly frustrating episode that I am determined to put behind me as quickly as possible. Some patients are not so fortunate.
Fingers crossed for tomorrow.
Martin Jones, Clinical Nurse Specialist HIV, East Sussex Downs & Weald. He has worked in sexual health and HIV since 1986.