It’s no secret that the thought of dealing with sputum of all colours and consistencies was my own personal hell.
Nothing repulsed me more. Just the thought was enough to drive me to uncontrollable dry heaving.
This aversion to all things mucus shot through my mind when I discovered I was due to start a 10 week placement with the respiratory specialist nurses. I would never manage to suppress the involuntary reaction whenever patients spoke of, or worse- produced, sputum samples in my presence.
Fortunately, like most nurses I’ve had the pleasure of working with, my mentors have been very understanding and tried initially to protect me from anything too sickening. Inevitably though, in a placement devoted solely to respiratory disorders, this proved increasingly difficult, and I was left with no choice but to essentially get over it.
Over the weeks, as I got to understand the general process and journey that a patient takes to be referred to the care of the respiratory specialist nurses, I finally began to see past the illnesses and resulting symptoms that the patients suffered, and instead saw the patients for what they were: people.
Each one, despite having sometimes the exact same illness and even the exact same stage of illness, had their own unique outlook on both their diagnosis and their life as a whole.
Suffering a respiratory disorder affects all aspects of a person’s life; regardless of what that life entails. Such as the man who had been devastated that he wouldn’t be able to finish the wall he’d been building in the months leading up to his exacerbation of COPD. Or the lady with Alzheimer’s who wouldn’t notice how breathless she was whilst pacing the corridors of the nursing home she resided in.
These people all had lives that were drastically impeded by their illness, it was impossible to not see the anxiety they all suffered as a result of the breathlessness and the fear of the life-altering disease they were living with.
The nurses I worked alongside all had the awe-inspiring ability to step into their patients’ worlds - whatever that world may be - and not only help treat their illness, but help them to overcome the unique challenges they faced.
So with the offer of ambulatory oxygen and by educating staff working in the home, the repiratory team made it possible for the lady in the nursing home to still pace the corridors without her breathlessness restricting her and increasing her anxiety and confusion.
A referral to pulmonary rehabilitation meant the man could learn techniques to pace himself and manage his breathlessness so that his physical activity wasn’t depleted too much and his life wouldn’t draw to a halt as he first feared.
So when the ex-hairdresser, who couldn’t move out of bed without de-saturating, yet only cared about whether her hair and make-up were done to perfection each morning is coughing up thick green sputum; you don’t give it a second thought. You take the sputum pot from her and pass her make-up bag to touch up her smudged lipstick, because that’s all that matters.