Working with people at their most vulnerable is an incredible privilege of being a nurse, and with it comes a great deal of power.
We make a huge number of decisions each day for the people we work with, like a parent for a child.
We base our decisions supposedly on the person’s best interests, but when it comes to deciding what is most important for that person, we are not always so able to align ourselves with their actual needs.
In my first year, I took a day away from my usual placement site to spend time with the psychiatric liaison team at the district general hospital.
While visiting one gentleman, one of the ward nurses explained how each bay was a different colour to help people find their way, especially if they struggled with memory, or were living with dementia.
“But”, I pointed out, “the clock is wrong.” The time, day and month were all wrong – and not by a small amount.
“When lying in bed for the best part of 24 hours, a person’s concept of time can become distorted”
“Oh, that”, she replied, “nobody looks at that”. And, with that, she left.
When seeking to orient someone, who are we to decide that space takes priority over time? Having recently spent almost a fortnight on a surgical ward in the same hospital with my father, recovering from a thoracotomy, I noticed that the clocks were wrong in all three bays where he stayed.
When lying in bed for the best part of 24 hours, a person’s concept of time can become distorted, measured only by drugs rounds and the relentless drip of IV infusions.
Our fob watches and mobile phones stay on track, while the hospital clocks are allowed to drift through leap years and daylight savings, and it seems that if we don’t look at the clocks, then nobody does.
The clocks and calendars offered the men on my dad’s ward a lifeline to orientation, sanity and reality, so it is in their best interests that they are correct. And, surely, this is an aid to recovery and rehabilitation, for when people are discharged back into a society ruled by time.
It is such a simple task, with the potential for such a huge impact. And it takes no time at all.