Nursing has always had a reputation as a worthwhile and fulfilling career choice. And, in many ways, it is.
But some of the spin would have people believe that the good moments always outweigh the bad – that, Casualty-style, you might have a rough start to the day but, come the end of your shift, everything will right itself and you’ll be staring mistily yet bravely out of some inner-city window, looking fetchingly heroic in a flattering pair of scrubs as the credits roll.
Who’s going to tell them that it’s not like that?
There are some things that you really can’t talk about with anyone other than another nurse.
I remember one patient who had a neurologically degenerative illness. He frequently became very distressed, screaming and curling up into a ball if one of us approached. His disorientation was interspersed with brief moments of a truly horrible lucidity, when he seemed to realise his state and stand aghast at the loss of his mind and at his own complete lack of dignity.
He was nursed in a side room and one night began screaming, cowering from something that was clearly not there. It was one of those gobsmackingly awful moments of nursing.
It took my mentor, sitting on the ground beside him and rocking him until he could be calmed. I turned around and left the room before locking myself into the loo and bursting into tears. I really couldn’t imagine how I could do this job.
There are no words that can do justice to the sheer awfulness of the ways that some people’s lives end. Or worse, the ways that some people’s lives are lived, in pain, confusion, agitation and disorientation. Perhaps the worst is that you know that this could be you in 60 years’ time.
And the best spin doctor in the world can’t make that sound worthwhile and fulfilling.
Arabella Sinclair-Penwarden is a staff nurse in Devon