Ever since I had started working in critical care, Kay had been afraid to visit me in my own department. A staff nurse on another ward, she had years more experience than me and years more skills and knowledge. But she was still wary of where I worked.
‘It’s intimidating,’ she explained through mouthfuls of toast in the canteen. ‘There’s so many of you, and because you all wear the same uniform I can’t tell who’s who.’ She eyed me over a can of drink. ‘Plus, you all look alike in those hats’.
She’s right, of course. Especially about the hats. I remember when I started there as a student, how scared I was of seeming stupid, of getting crucial people muddled up and making a complete fool of myself.
The ward seemed long and threatening, full of terribly ill-looking patients. Everyone seemed resiliently confident, busily engaged with reassuring their patient or being competent with a scary-looking machine that squatted menacingly on a shelf above the patient. I didn’t think that I could ever do that.
Perhaps it comes down to fear of the unknown. Don’t most things? A lot of patients’ anxieties seem to stem from lack of complete information, and it’s reasonable to be afraid of a procedure if you don’t fully understand what it involves, whether it will hurt, and the expectations for afterwards.
It’s so easy to find our work so everyday and familiar that we forget how daunting it can look like to other people – patients, students and staff. And especially for patients – because it never is ‘just another day’ for them.
Arabella Sinclair- Penwarden is a staff nurse in Devon
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