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Ward life needs to become more sociable

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‘He's not used to that sort of thing,’ said the relatives of a young patient recovering from a knee operation. They were referring to the young disabled man in the corner of the four-bed bay who needed his tracheostomy suctioning at regular intervals.

This made a noise, as his cough reflex was initiated, which was upsetting the other young man and his friends and relatives.
It took all my skills to reassure and explain to them that, as it was a hospital, it was open to all people who were unwell and needed treatment.

‘Well, can’t he have a bed somewhere else then?’

It was Sunday and patients waiting to be admitted for operations on Monday were being sent home as there were not enough beds. Again, it was tactfully explained that beds were not readily available.

This young man was also displaying a tendency to close himself off from the life of the ward by keeping his curtains closed all day.

For washes, examinations, wound dressings or at other intimate times, where patient dignity is of utmost importance, curtains are absolutely necessary.

But it is unsafe for patients to be closed off for long periods of time. Just by observing, a nurse is often able to ‘sense’ if something is amiss.

I am often asked: ‘Can I have a window bed?’ because the person asking the question doesn’t want to have to look at a curtain all day. On one occasion two elderly women were in side-by-side beds staring at the drawn curtains opposite while a postnatal mother looked after her baby in the dark.

What does this tell us? While technology is breaking down communication barriers, on a human level maybe we are losing touch with each other.

Marjorie Allworth, staff nurse, East and North Herts Hospital Trust Bank, based at The Lister Hospital, Stevenage, north Hertfordshire

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