NURSES

Dear John

Every day I wrote the number day it was on the whiteboard in the kitchen, hoping for at least some of the time that when you eventually came home, maybe after a few months of recovery, I would show you the number, and at last be able to stop changing it every day, because now you were home and everything could carry on as normal after the horrendous experience we’d both been through.

Sadly, it transpired that I stopped changing the number on day 59, when you passed away.

All around the number on the whiteboard, at the beginning, I wrote the names of your various nurses.  I hadn’t expected it to be so many.  You would have thought there might be a pool of what, six or ten nurses who would rotate, but in fact there must have been at least thirty different people.  It began to annoy me that it was always someone new, with sometimes people challenging me to say who I was, when I’d been going in there every day for weeks.  Surely more different people must mean more scope for error in handover, and there didn’t seem to be much in the way of supervision of these people.

Anyway, on the whiteboard, these people got assessed with either a tick or a cross.  Their apparent competence and particularly their attitude was very variable.  Some were very kind and friendly and sympathetic, some expressing personal and encouraging comments.  Some were so unfriendly it was astonishing, not even returning a smile, and refusing to look or speak to you when you looked at them and addressed them directly.  Most of the nurses would offer you a chair, one or two never did although you were standing there for ages.  And clearly they are supposed to say something to their patient, for example when they had to clean a patient’s mouth or make them cough.  Most did this for you (although knowing you usually couldn’t hear or understand), but some pointedly did not, just walked up to you and did the thing anyway, without a word.

My sister mentioned an Agatha Christie book she was reading, when she visited, and commented on how people could be characterised with one word, eg ‘the nice waitress did this, while the nasty waitress did that’.  There were definitely ‘nice’ and ‘nasty’ nurses.  About two thirds got ticks on my whiteboard, the rest got a cross.  People should be aware how quickly they can be judged and scooped into one of two categories, and how little it takes – a smile and a kind word – to be perceived as being professional and compassionate.

I suspect they deliberately don’t want nurses to have to regularly nurse the same person in case they get too attached, but it is a bit harsh that there is no continuity – no-one who knows what’s happened before, the history of the patient they’re working with.  And when the patient comes out – well John darling, if you’d come home and seen my list of nurse’s names, you would have had the pleasure (ie horror) of realising that all those different strangers were doing intimate things to you, ie cleaning up.  Oh well, I suppose you wouldn’t have minded, if they’d saved your life.

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