I know her name but it might not be appropriate to write it. She is a charge nurse on a medical ward in the south of England.
Last week a patient on her ward arrested and died. The patient was in a four bed bay, she wasn’t that old and neither were the other three patients. In that sense it was somehow unexpected - at least by the patients.
They are variable little communities, those bays, aren’t they? Often they don’t settle into spoken relationships, sometimes there is conversation but it is light and superficial. But often there is a sense of each other gathered through observing habits or visitors’ visitors. Patients paint pictures of each others’ lives by the things they see and hear. If nothing else, it passes the time.
‘I am bored senseless by the misanthropy of political electioneering. Most people will vote for the leader who doesn’t annoy them as much as the others’
Anyway, long after the crash team had gone and the pretend normality brought by hospital routine had been re‑established and the night staff had taken over, the charge nurse was still there. Not doing the inevitable paperwork and not debriefing staff, but instead sitting with each of the patients in the bay, talking with them about how they experienced the arrest, about how they felt. About how they were. She took her time. She shared real emotions. She was sad and honest. She was doing her job. And doing it really well.
I mention this in part I suspect because I am bored senseless by the misanthropy of political electioneering. Most people will vote for the party they dislike the least, for the leader who doesn’t annoy them as much as the others, or for the party that may not do as much harm as the others.
And I can’t help thinking we ought to be able to hope for more. So, against a backdrop of relentless self promotion by needy and unconvincing politicians, I was warmed by the good nurse.
And then there is that old chestnut called “compassion” and the seemingly controversial idea reported by Nursing Times that compassion will be tested in Wales (news, page 2, 20 April).
“It’s immeasurable,” say some. “It’s irrelevant,” suggest others. One can only imagine such cynicism is born of tiredness or overwork. Compassion is no harder to measure than rain. Is there rain? Stand outside and you’ll know. Is there compassion? Be around it, you’ll know.
And irrelevant? Rarely. It’s the thing that stops nursing being simply a list of acts aimed at wellbeing. Ask patients what makes the difference and they always say something that looks like compassion.
Election times can be weird. They are crammed full of anger and distaste, name calling and smears. Meanwhile, nursing and the public sector are preparing for brutal cuts to services and jobs when the politicians emerge from the dust.
Maybe the new economic brutalism is shaping us already. Perhaps there will be no time for the human exchange so brilliantly exhibited by the charge nurse above and, perhaps, that is why we may be disdainful of such soft minded ideas as compassion.
But, personally, I still think nursing is better than that. And thank goodness there are nurses like that to prove it every day.