I was a nurse in a different age. I was a nurse when there was a matron, when there were no patients on trolleys in the corridor, when A&E wasn’t plagued by drunks and angry people, when 999’s were emergency calls and not someone wanting a taxi. I was a nurse when we wore uniforms and aprons and did something called ‘barrier nursing’ to cut down infection. When I was a nurse a bedsore or sepsis were just about unheard of. A bedsore, on any patient, would have brought the wrath of the Matron crashing down on the heads of the nursing team.
Yep. That’s me!
When I was a nurse the wards were clean and neat and quiet. Now the wards are cluttered with machines, overflowing lockers, bags and rubbish bins, and the air is full of bleeps and alarms and the cries of people with dementia, the crash of trolleys, the cheerful yells of porters and nurses…. so noisy. When I was a nurse we asked patients if they needed the loo, or a bedpan, or bottle… we fed them when they couldn’t feed themselves, we gave a bed bath to every non ambulant patient at least once a day. When I was a nurse we wore a clean dress every day and a fresh apron for every surgical or aseptic procedure. That’s how we cut down on infection and cross infection.
Now nurses wear cotton scrubs for a whole shift, sometimes (not always) putting a flimsy plastic ‘apron’ around themselves, but then bundling it up, so that any residue is scattered, and shoving it into a black bin in the room where the patient sleeps. There are no masks, no aseptic techniques, no understanding of infectious pathways.
This week I counted eight nurses/doctors/ward admin around the ward desk one day when I was visiting. Every single one of them was filling in a form or tapping something into a computer. While they did so their patients were untended, alarms were sounding on drips that were running out, someone had pressed the buzzer for help but none was coming, the 6 bedded ward was cluttered and messy and hot….. it was like a circle of Dante’s hell.
Nurses now. Nurses now! Listen, nurses now are wonderful. They are as underpaid as we were, they are as overworked as we were, but their working conditions are so much worse. They are so much worse! And yet they are still full of kindness and good cheer and comfort. My friend is in a side ward and very ill, and she has received nothing but kindness and patience and understanding from the nurses.
We forget that if the conditions are lousy for the patients, and they are, then those are the same conditions, the working conditions, for all the hospital staff, day in and day out. They have to work in the chaos of crowded wards, they have to bear with too many patients, too few theatre slots, too few doctors, too much ridiculous paper chasing and form filling, long ambulance waits, inadequate training, too much uncertainty about future employment and hospital closures, and, in all, a badly organised and demoralised employment environment.
The nurses I have met over the last month have been really wonderful. The doctors have been caring and dedicated – three weeks ago my friend collapsed on the ward, and all the alarms went off. A rapid response team ran from all over the hospital to be at her side. Within minutes she had a CT scan, the emergency was diagnosed and stabilised. The place went bonkers for her, for maybe an hour. Afterwards we thanked the young doctor who had headed the team and he told us, laughing, that when the alarms went and his bleeper started, he ran up the stairs and flew down the corridors, up another flight of stairs and then became very dizzy and weak. He realised that the day before he had given blood and that was maybe not such a great idea in a long run of work days. We asked how long it was since he’d had a day off – 11 days!
These are our carers. They are fabulous. I thank God for them.