On a shift in clinical practice on an elderly care ward, I was helping a man in his 80s get up and washed prior to breakfast.
He was frail, needing some assistance and, given that he had considerable stubble on his chin, I asked him if he wanted a shave.
He looked surprised and said he did, but he hadn’t been able to wet shave – which was his practice – for the previous three days. I found disposable razors and foam and shaved him. To his obvious pleasure, he was able to eat his breakfast clean-shaven as he did at home.
On reflection, the surprise was that he hadn’t been offered a shave before. The care on the ward was good, nurses and healthcare assistants took pride not only in effectively treating their patients and keeping them safe and comfortable, but also in encouraging them to wear their own clothes and follow their own routines.
“Part of the issue might be a lack of skills”
Female patients who wanted to apply make up would be helped to do this, while men would have their hair combed if they couldn’t do it themselves. So why was this routine and regular aspect of this man’s personal care missed?
Part of the issue might be a lack of skills. As a male nurse of a certain age, I have been shaving faces for north of 30 years, partly born of the confidence of shaving my own face most mornings for more than 40.
In a later discussion, the ward manager of another elderly care ward told me that two years previously her ward had been designated to mixed-sex care after years of being female only. Many of her – entirely female – staff were understandably concerned about their skills in nursing men, so study sessions to upskill them were planned.
A desire to learn more about male catheterisation and catheter care did not surprise her, but the number of her staff wanting to learn how to wet shave men did. Subsequently a number of foam-sprayed balloons perished in the noble cause of practical learning.
Do we need know how to wet shave men? I think we do. Many men would no more consider going out to face the world unshaved than they would with unbrushed teeth and a lack of trousers.
They could use an electric razor, but they choose not to and hospital staff would rightly baulk at the infection risk of a shared electric razor. If we don’t help these men to wet shave, we are not providing the level of care to which we rightly aspire.
What about different cultures, beard washing, grooming and oiling? What about women with unwanted facial hair? Let’s get to it.
If it’s important to our patients then it’s important to us. Let’s make sure we equip our students in this key aspect of personal care.
In this brave new world of nurses performing total body assessments, and physical examination we still need to remember to look our patients fully in their sometimes hirsute faces.
Mark Gretton is lecturer in adult nursing, School of Health and Social Work, University of Hull