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Student life

“I was so angry when the manager asked me to wash up”


Habiba was shocked by the lack of activities for residents on her residential home placement, so she did something about it

I had been told by my university that my first placement in a residential home was to learn about communicating with residents. So I was surprised when on my first day the manager was unhappy when she found me sat chatting to a resident. She said I should go and help the staff in the kitchen doing the washing up.

During my first few days I spoke to residents about how they spent their time and what kind of activities they did. I was shocked to hear that most of the time they sat watching television, which usually they didn’t enjoy.

 When I heard how they felt I said to myself “Why not propose something that everybody can do and enjoy doing?”

I was so angry when the manager asked me to wash up as I didn’t think that was the reason I was there. I also felt disappointed to see residents sitting all day waiting for meal times and had a strong feeling to do something to help the residents to enjoy themselves.

I decided to do some gardening with them and asked what they thought about the idea. Some of them were very excited about it and some of them weren’t sure about going out in the cold, others said they weren’t allowed to go out. In the end, only two residents were sure they were going to join in.

I was pleased to hear the ones who were interested talking about what kind of bulbs they wanted me to bring to grow, and when they wanted to do it. But I could not promise anything before I spoke to the manager.

I was worried about the reaction of the managers because everything developed so quickly and I had only one more day before the end of my placement. However the manager welcomed the idea and asked me to go ahead with it. 

That evening I prepared everything I needed. I took compost, different kind of bulbs to plant, pots to plant them in, and brought extra just in case any other residents changed their minds.

The next day I laid everything we needed on the table in the lounge; I was surprised that nearly all the others who weren’t interested the first time changed their minds and asked me if they could join in.

It was very interesting and a pleasure to see the residents rolling up their sleeves to get busy: it was the first time I had seen them active. They were telling their stories; there was lot of talking and no arguments at all. This was quite unusual in my experience, as when the television was on there had not been much conversation among the residents. I saw great enjoyment in their faces when they were planting.  Residents were asking if I had some more bulbs, and it seemed that they would have carried on all day. 

The residents took their planted bulbs to their rooms. They carefully chose where to put them, and talked more about how the flowers would look. They were looking ahead to them blooming. One resident knew a lot about flowers from her mother who had been a florist, and she was pleased to have something growing to look after.

The manager took photos of the residents while they were busy, and this seemed to show that she also thought it was a special event or interesting in some way.

The next day was my last in the residential home, so I couldn’t see what happened next with the residents or with their bulbs.

All the residents said “Thank you” at some point.  I was so glad I did it.

In my next placement in a similar setting I will make sure to have the same attitudes towards residents. I will always make sure to make time to do something different with them and find out who is responsible for such activities.


Habiba Afarssad Wharton is a first-year student nurse studying adult nursing at Greenwich University


Readers' comments (2)

  • This a heartwarming article, we need nurses like you :-)

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  • when job hunting (RN of 30 years experience and MSc Healthcare Management) I went on a few trial day visits. After a successful interview with the manager of one home for the handicapped I returned at the appointed time where I was put in the charge of a senior member of staff for the day who I later discovered was the housekeeper and the only person on duty during the day shift. the first activity of the morning was a meeting with her and a group of adults with learning difficulties and Downs syndrome who she 'lectured' in a very offensive and angry way about the quality of their cleaning (one of their social living activities) the previous week. I was shocked and imagine some of these individuals don't have a good memory for certain things and would have benefitted from a demonstration of what was expected of them and perhaps a one to one constructive critique of their work. They all went off to their various chores and I was delegated the ironing. This was not really what I had come for but decided to get on with it as everybody else was engaged in other chores, see what came next and talk about it later. I ironed 30 shirts! The good lady then came and announced two hours later at 11 am she was off for her break which was totally unexpected at this time as I thought I was working with her the whole day, and she said she was returning only at 4 pm as she had a split shift. I had arranged with the manager to be there on a continuous shift until 4 pm! I asked her what I should do during her absence and she told me I could take on another pile of shirts! I then again explained to her the reason for my visit and would prefer to do the same shift as her as it was said I could visit one of the apartments of the residents later in the day to see how these were run and the role of the nursing team. This seemed OK but the manager had already left so I went home and phoned him later and explained the situation. He was extremely cross as I had broken the arrangement but I remained polite and firm. However, when I returned (rather reluctantly by this time) as planned I was hauled into his office on my arrival and told I would be unable to visit the flat as arranged as it was their private living space (although supported by a multidisciplinary team including mental health nurses) and inviting a stranger in, because of their disabilities, would be an infringement of their privacy and data protection! I respected his decision for the reasons he gave although very annoyed at having been messed around in this way as this should have been established at the outset. I explained this sudden change of decision to the housekeeper and said there was little point in staying any longer so she offered me a coffee in the cafeteria run by the residents before I left. She was quite pleasant to me but then proceeded to deliver me a lecture on perfectionism, how good she was at her job of very many years and how well liked she was by all the residents! I politely listened to her tried to discuss the merits of high quality work and the non-existence of perfectionism to which she clearly did not listen preferring to do the talking and I politely left at the earliest opportunity!

    I have learned in nursing however and in life in general that one must always be prepared to roll up one's sleeves and help wherever it is needed no matter how menial one might consider the chores and especially if it can also be carried out in a constructive manner and learning situation for somebody else. nobody should ever consider themselves too important or over qualified for the most menial tasks if it is of benefit to others or the self and such ideas that they are must be dispelled.

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