Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Ramblings: The Lady with the Lump

This could be a tricky one: how to write a positive post about being a nurse? I'm willing to give it a go. I've read the policy at work about posting on social networking and I'm not going to breach it by talking about individual issues with patients or my employer as I actually quite like my job and wouldn't really want to lose it. So here goes...

I became a nurse totally by accident. I originally planned to go to University to study English Literature (or polytechnic, if I'm brutally honest, as I'd had to drop an A level after months of sick time with glandular fever aged 16) but I flunked my remaining two A levels by making the mature and sensible decision aged 17 to knock about with a much older man and not do any studying. Bang went the ideas in my head of a literary career in journalism or publishing. In reality I'd have been teaching English in a inner City comprehensive by now and dodging missiles and shouts of "Hey Mr Poofter!"

I ended up leaving home at age 17 and by 18 was living in a seedy bedsit with a 41 year old alcoholic and working in a Woolworth's toy shop. There were benefits to this job (I got paid, had a free electric blue sweatshirt and stole a lot of Pic n' Mix) but it bored me senseless and by age 20 I was as miserable as sin. I tried going to night classes to re-sit my A Levels but couldn't summon up the enthusiasm.

Living with my ex was always a bit hairy and he had a violent temper and was more often out of work than in. His erratic nature and problem drinking meant he'd fly off the handle at anything and walk out on good jobs and then eventually use his charm to get another good job and lose that too in time. It was a perpetual cycle and we often only had my modest shop assistant's income and I needed cigarettes, alcohol, books and food (in that order). I didn't feel I could live on a grant as I needed to support us both, so my ideas of going to Uni seemed very remote. I know the obvious question is why I didn't just leave him but that's a whole other story (which I may well share later). So I had a re-think.

I went to the local career's office in 1992 and was thinking about social work or probation work and the woman steered me towards nursing. I contemplated the idea but decided it was madness. I'm rubbish with my hands, impatient and don't like the general public much. Why would I want to be a nurse? I didn't even like Casualty on TV and was quite squeamish. Hmmm....the training looked quite light academically and you got paid! The salary was almost what I was paid at Woolworths and I thought it would be good to fulfil a stereotype and be a gay male nurse. It's what's expected. I don't like hair, arranging flowers or flying so that's the other gay jobs out.

After mulling the idea over for about two minutes, I did my usual thing and applied impulsively with not much thought and forgot about it. I got a letter a few weeks later inviting me for an interview, got in on a drop out place and started three weeks later. I didn't even have time to think about it.

I totally loved my training from the outset apart from the dull bits in college and the 9 weeks spent in the operating theatres (I couldn't get excited about standing up all day and opening the odd packet). I loved being on the wards and couldn't get over the intense connection you can get with people when you nurse them in severe illness or dire straits. I found the job funny (I have hundreds of anecdotes about comical things people have said which amuse me) but not in a cruel way. There's a certain black humour in medicine and nursing which is necessary, I think, but never sadistic or disrespectful.

I always liked the mayhem and the satisfaction in bringing order to chaos. There's nothing more satisfying than making someone more comfortable and even if you can't make the person better you can make them feel better, even if it's only in the tiniest way. Giving a little old man a shave and a nice wash and having him look better after a feverish night is a genuine pleasure. In nursing no two jobs are ever the same and my butterfly mind was instantly attracted by the stimulation of a job where no two days are ever the same and the time flies by every day (except when you're opening packets and standing around in scrubs).

I've also loved all my jobs from working on general medicine and oncology as a staff nurse through to my time on gastroenterology and hepatology as a charge nurse and ward manager to my present job as a palliative care nurse specialist. I'm not sure these jobs have always loved me back in the same way. Getting my degree in (mostly) my spare time wasn't such fun either but I did it and it was worth it.

There's something about the camaraderie amongst nurses too. There's nothing like an arduous night shift to bond you with your colleagues. It's not easy to remain aloof with each other after a grisly cardiac arrest or a nasty exsanguination. Some of my best friends are current or ex colleagues which is fantastic.

Naturally there are negative sides to any job and I must admit that there are a lot of things I've seen in the past 18 years that I wish I hadn't. Nursing is a high stress job and I certainly haven't come through unscathed and I could have done without having quite so much lobbed at me during my days on hepatology but you take the rough with the smooth. Naturally, we should be treated better, paid more etc. I'm not going to comment on all that now as this is a post about the positive side to nursing.

I sometimes think (pointlessly, as you can't change the past), if I'd have been happier had I gone to Uni and studied English Literature and never become a nurse. I'm not sure I would really. For all the frustrations, aggravations and abuse I think that even if I'd known what I know now aged 20, I'd still go back and do my training again.

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