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'That's what I'm here for': patience and kindness in hospital

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Exhausted and in pain, Jenny’s hospital stay was transformed by the kindness and compassion she received from HCA Tracey

I was lying in my hospital bed in a morphine-induced haze, zoning out from all the noise of a busy orthopaedic ward, with soothing Mozart playing through my head-phones.

When my peace and calm was suddenly violated by a fog-horn of a female voice screaming down the ward: “Maggie! Get yerself down ‘ere, I need your ‘elp!”

Who was this? Who was on the end of this coarse, deafening roar? What could possibly be so urgent as to necessitate a request at such an ear-splitting level of decibels? How dare she disturb my little pool of peace and tranquillity by tossing such fierce, unwelcome auditory pebbles into its calm waters?

I pulled the head-phones out of my ears and listened. Immediately my pain returned, like a lion with its open jaws clamped on my leg. There were sounds of busy-ness from the next bay over which the same coarse but somewhat muted voice could be heard, but no words I could make sense of.

”More piercings and tattoos than I have seen on the largest of Hell’s Angels - and a big friendly smile”

Then the owner of the voice appeared, dressed in light green Health Care Assistant scrubs, in the doorway of our bay. A slight, wiry figure with lank hair in a low pony-tail with several escapee strands. More piercings and tattoos than I have seen on the largest of Hell’s Angels - and a big friendly smile.

“’Allo girls! ‘Oo wants a wash then?”

I replaced my head-phones and sank back into my pillows, hoping she wouldn’t come near me. I watched her approach Marjorie, a very poorly old lady across the way, who had had a hip replacement as the result of a fall. I watched her pull the curtains round and pop in and out with a bowl of hot water and some towels, singing at the top of her voice, “I’m forever blowing bubbles …”

She spent a good 20 minutes caring for Marjorie and above the soothing tones of my Mozart Flute and Harp, I could hear that voice, still loud, but oh so patient and kind.

”I could hear that voice, still loud, but oh so patient and kind”

“There you are my darlin’,” she said, pulling back the curtains and tucking her elderly patient back into bed. “Now, you ‘ave a nice little doze, the tea trolley will be round soon.”

I smiled at her weakly as she approached my bed.

“I’m Tracey. You need some ‘elp, darlin’?”

“No, no, I think I’ll be fine,” I insisted. “I am hoping to have a shower later on.”

“No time like the present,” said Tracey. “You been out of bed yet?”

“Yes, but I’m a bit unsteady.”

“No worries, tha’s what I’m ‘ere for, darlin’. Now where’s your wash stuff?”

I indicated that it was in the bedside locker and she crouched down to find it.

“’Ow ‘bout clean nightie, clean knicks and socks?” she suggested, piling the items up on the end of the bed with my toilet bag and towel. “Ooh look at them polka dot knickers! Aren’t they lovely?”

“I’m not that good at getting out of bed yet, it’s really painful…”

“No worries. You take your time, that’s it, shift yer bum sideways and get your good leg almost to the floor. Now bring that foot up as a support for your poorly leg and gently … lower … it … down. That’s it, wicked! You’ve done it.”

“That your partner?” she enquired, pointing at the photo of us both on my locker.

“Yes,” I said. “She’ll be in this afternoon.”

“She looks well nice. A real kind face and I can see from the way she’s looking at you that she really loves you.”

I probably blushed. That’s why I had chosen that particular photo but I felt very moved by this easy, natural acceptance and warmth.

“Now, ‘ere’s yer frame, take yer time,” said Tracey, encouraging me to my feet. “I’ll bring yer stuff and I’ll be right be’ind you. I’ll stay if you want, nothing I ‘aven’t seen before, but if you think you can manage, I’ll just be outside the door. Just ring the bell,” and she closed the bathroom door behind her.

”Tracey had been the first person since the recovery room who had smiled, enquired how I was feeling and showed me warmth and humanity”

I sat on the loo and let my tears flow. It had been a tortuous, pain-racked 24 hours since my knee surgery and the nurses and other HCAs had monitored my temperature, blood pressure and saturation levels hourly through the night, but they’d all been a bit curt and business-like, focussed mainly on drugs and paper-work. Tracey had been the first person since the recovery room who had smiled, enquired how I was feeling and showed me warmth and humanity. My relief and my gratitude just spilled over.

Gradually I eased myself from the loo onto the stool in the shower and gasped as the warm water rained down on my tired, wounded body. I was able to shampoo my sticky, sweaty hair, wash and dry myself and get my nightie over my head, but the knickers and socks were a step too far. Reluctantly I pulled on the orange cord which made a light flash on the ceiling and emit a low, repetitive beep out into the ward.

”My thanks were many and sincere. I told her I felt very cared for.”

“I really like these jazzy knickers,” said Tracey, crouching on the floor to help me put them on. “Now, let’s get yer back to bed.”

She gathered up yesterday’s night-wear, my towel and toiletries and we made our way back to my bed space. I was drained and exhausted and the pain in my leg was screaming in protest. I sat on my bed and Tracey helped me swing my legs up on to the clean sheets, covered me gently with a blanket and asked if my pillows were comfortable. My thanks were many and sincere. I told her I felt very cared for.

“Now, I think you need a nice cup o’ coffee and a big dose of ora-morph,” she said, recognising my pain from the tension in my face. “I’ll go and get your coffee and ask a nurse to bring your medication. Alright darlin’ ?”

Later that afternoon I introduced her to Jan, my partner, and the three of us chatted for some time. Tracey, no more than 42, had been twice married and was now living with a third partner and the seven children they brought to the relationship together.

“Have you ever thought about going on to do nurse training and earning more money?” enquired Jan, always one to consider the wage packet and value for money.

“Nah!” scoffed Tracey. “I don’t wanna spend my days pushing drugs and doing endless paper-work. I want the patient contact, I wanna do this,” she said gesturing to me and the other women in the bay. “I wanna make a difference.”

You did, Tracey. You really, really did.

Jenny Craigen

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