Degenerative brain disorder in patients poses a challenge to nurses, especially if the person is hostile, but sometimes it is unexpectedly easy to break through hostility and gain patient trust.
Mr Haswell – grumpy and formidable – has posed problems for me. Within a day of meeting him, he had thrown soup at me, deliberately soiled his bed and tipped a urine bottle on the floor.
It was an inauspicious start to our relationship. However, I soon cast around for some way of winning him round, and chance came to my rescue when I noticed him engrossed in the horse racing on TV.
‘You like racing, then?’
I asked tentatively.
‘What’s it to you?’‘
My husband’s into racing. He and his brother have half-shares in a horse.’
‘Yeah?’ he said.
‘Which end is your husband’s?
The rear end, I suppose?’
I laughed, and he turned and stared at me suspiciously. Then suddenly his expression changed and he too burst into great gales of laughter. It was the breakthrough I needed.
I later realised I had hit on two ways of winning his cooperation – getting him to tell me about racing and giving him the satisfaction of making me laugh. Doing this never failed. Not only did he grow to trust me and cooperate with the treatment, he suggested (heaven forbid) that if he’d been 40 years younger, he and I could have been an ‘item’!
When I finished my placement, he made me promise to come and visit him, but I had to delay the visit by two months, by which time his brain had deteriorated and he lay, sad and broken, unable to remember me.
A bitter-sweet experience, then. But there was consolation in knowing I had learnt something useful and brought a little light into his life. I couldn’t ask for more than that.
Lesley McHarg is a third-year student at Paisley University