You’re sat in front of me telling me all about your child, what he was like when he was well, what you noticed first about his illness, how the doctors didn’t believe you.
You tell me about how suddenly the tests came back and the whirlwind of transfers, blood tests, internet searches, tears…
You’ve told me all this twice already, but I know you need to go over it again. It’s ok, I want to listen, I’m here for you. But I can’t help but let my mind wander a little to my other patients. The pre-teen down the hall who took an overdose last night. Her mum isn’t here because “hospitals are boring”. I want to go and talk to her. I’ve got obs due, I can hear my patient in bed five screaming and I’ve no idea where my mentor is.
I’m exhausted too. Do you see that? You must do because you count down the hours left on my shift for me (as if I don’t know), telling me with a smile “only 4 more hours til your day off!” I simle back but really I’m thinking about how my day off will be spent at work, in a job that just about pays me enough to put petrol in my car to get back here next week.
You tell me about your marriage, how it’s suffered since your son’s diagnosis and I’m trying to listen, but I can’t help thinking about my own, how it’s falling apart because I’m so tired that when I get home I just snap at him and fall asleep. I can’t tell you that. What you’re going through is so much worse and even though I need to talk to someone myself, I’m here, listening to you. I tell you to talk to him, that you need each other. I wish I could listen to myself sometimes.
You ask me questions, questions I don’t know the answer to because we haven’t learnt that yet. I promise to go and find someone who can answer them, and you thank me, then tell me that nurse training “isn’t like the good old days”. I want to listen to the answers the doctor will give you, to learn, but I still want to talk to that girl. I go and sit with her, and a nurse finds me, tells me to stop hiding in here and do some work. I’m thinking that this is important, this IS work, but that I’d better hop to it before she shouts at me. I promise the girl I’ll come back.
You tell me what you’ll buy him for Christmas, and I wonder if he’ll make it to Christmas. I suddenly hope my thoughts aren’t written on my face and I think maybe they were, maybe you saw that. I’m sorry, I wish I’d not thought it, I wish I’d learnt how not to show it. I want to tell you how that one small moment there will haunt me for months, to thank you for teaching me how important it is to be aware of my body language, my facial expressions….
But you don’t need to hear that. I have to go, I’ve got things to do, I still want to get back to that girl but how can I go now? I’ve just upset you and I need to stay, just a while longer.
You ask me if I’m enjoying my placement, that it must be nice to be a student and I say “of course, I love it” with a smile, because what else can I say? If you knew what I was really thinking, you wouldn’t ask that question. You’d see that I must love it, so much, otherwise I just wouldn’t be here.
Rachael Starkey is Student Nursing Times’ Children’s branch student editor