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When there's no time to nurse

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 43, PAGE NO: 29

Phil Barker, PhD, RN

Nursing is either dying or dead on its feet. I haven't quite worked it out yet, but my reading of the runes is that there isn't much to choose between these two dire scenarios.

Nursing is either dying or dead on its feet. I haven't quite worked it out yet, but my reading of the runes is that there isn't much to choose between these two dire scenarios.

The nursing press has been full of its own desperation of late. Nurses either have no time to 'care' or no time to 'be' with the people who doze fitfully under the patient label. Given that caring for and spending time with fractious, fearful or hurting people are the profession's hallmarks, one wonders who is doing the nursing?

What does it mean to be a nurse in this chaotic 21st century? Anyone laying claim to the title who does anything remotely exciting, challenging or criminal in these celebrity-strewn times merits column inches in the nursing press. Whether they have ever raised (or lowered) a patient's blood pressure is irrelevant.

We live in a world of form, not function. The meaning is no longer in the message. Now the meaning is the message. If a nurse can dance to the latest tune - defined by the media or government, assuming these are not the same animal - we may see her in full indiscreet splendour on the Castaway island, or on Clinical Governance Spotlight. What once was a simple drama has now turned into a tawdry melodrama.

A couple of friends told me years ago that nursing was not the exclusive preserve of the Nightingale brigade. Others care enough about the world and even inanimate objects to know that caring often reaches the parts other human interventions cannot reach.

Ben is a billiards player. Years of practice and competition have taught him the value of 'nursing' the balls: careful manoeuvres that offer the best chance of a high score.

Graham is a nurseryman: a curious title for such a rough-handed bloke. He has spent almost 40 years nurturing the green fuse that spurts, often erratically, through shrub and dahlia. The secret is 'nursing' the plant or sapling: arranging the right conditions, given the weather, for growth to occur.

Ben and Graham are sensible types. Neither thinks his success involves much more than luck and a modicum of commitment. Modest to a fault, they see themselves as blessed by the good fortune of their chosen vocation. Such an odd word that - no wonder it has slipped from our vocabulary.

Florence Nightingale is just an idea to them, but they know her ideas about care and caring better than many who are on Clinical Governance Spotlight.

I could not imagine Ben getting anywhere in a tournament without nursing the billiard balls. And Graham's nursery would go to the economic wall if he did not have the time to weed and water his charges.

So, how can nurses nurse if they are not arranging the conditions for the patient to be healed by nature or by God, as Flo once pithily suggested? This question will soon be only of historical relevance. Discuss!

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