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Starting out

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Some experiences are beyond words

‘Tunnel vision’, said my colleague, as he described an accident he’d witnessed. ‘Tunnel vision’, said a friend, as he recounted a crash call at work. ‘Tunnel vision’, I echoed silently in my head as I was involved in my first emergency as a qualified staff nurse.

They were right. The ward around me slipped out of focus as I concentrated on my patient, seeing only their face as I grasped for my equipment. My hands shook as I pulled the wrapper off the airway. Senior help arrived in seconds and I stood back, heart pounding, as I watched them work.

It ended happily. But I was shaken by the event and had to talk it over several times with senior colleagues. I recounted my thoughts, my actions, my rationale. I wondered aloud whether I should have anticipated the event. I was listened to, calmed and reassured. And paradoxically I felt more confident. I had dealt with the situation suitably and would know how to manage it even better next time.

But I went home unable to explain what it had been like.

‘Did you have a good day at work?’ comes the question from the other end of the sofa. It’s a cliche passed between partners at the end of the working day.

Of course, it’s not obligatory to answer and most important is the need to maintain patient confidentiality but to come home from work and to be unable to unload is difficult.

But how do you explain the scariness of the situation, the panic you felt and the relief that washed over you when it was over?

More so, how do you explain it to an outsider? Joan Baez once sang about describing music to the deaf and colour to the blind. She obviously had a better way with words than I do, for I sit in silence on the sofa. You see, I don’t know what to say.

Arabella Sinclair-Penwarden is a staff nurse in Devon

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