If someone were to ask me if I could describe the past fortnight in ten or less words, I can honestly say I don’t think I would be able to describe it in a few short words at all. It’s not for the fact of not trying or being able to locate a dictionary in this household because I’m sure there will be one located near a plastic figurine of a brain.
With much consideration to how emotionally raw this post is than I would have to say: emotionally challenging with increased amount of death.
When looking back in this past fortnight and seeing how far I’ve come from the nervous and borderline shy nurse to the student nurse who charges her way through a bay of patients, it has been an experience and a half. So with that, grab a drink, pop on some calming music and find somewhere comfy to seat because I suspect this may become a pretty long post as compared to my other recent ones.
So where to begin but at the beginning.
I first found out that I would be on a cardiothoracic and neurological unit, otherwise known as a heart and stroke unit for those who don’t wish to study medicine, a couple of months ago when my allocation came out. Least to say, I was more excited about coming into contact with a patient, being able to fondle and play with their heart and putting my awesome and newly gained ECG (electrocardiography) skills to the test.
My overall excitement waned slightly when I discovered the ward also looked after stroke patients or neurologically compromised patients. After my rather disastrous time at another Brisbane hospital that saw me left alone with an unconscious patient, a nasogastric tube and rather large amount of medications for thirty minutes and when the nurse returned, I was torn another arsehole because I hadn’t done the administration of medication.
Just for clarification: student nurses are not to administer any form of medication without the watchful gaze of a Registered Nurse.
I finished that placement in a triage bed in A&E after complaining about radiating chest pain from the tips of my fingers up to my jawline and was spreading towards my right shoulder. In other words, I thought I was having a heart attack from the stress of that particular placement. So you can only imagine how unexcited or impressed I was at being put into another ward that dealt with neuro patients again.
Since making that negative decision, I have been proven incredibly wrong because I judged a book by its cover.
Now after having my placement in mind and address of the hospital in hand, my family and I jumped into The Beast and tucked a few hundred kilometres under our seat belts. Under the context of checking out the prime location of said hospital and how much parking there was, since hospitals are notorious for not having enough, Monday arrived and so did the swarm of butterflies in my stomach.
As I headed out onto the highway with a full tank of petrol and a hundred and ten kilometres (let’s go with that legal number) listed on my speedo, I wondered about the next four weeks and if I would like the other students on the ward. With a brief knowledge of where I was going and my phone on standby in case I needed to make a tearful apology to my facilitator via my college, I arrived at the hospital and spent the next 10 minutes looking for a car park.
I realised while parking on what would later be dubbed as the ‘dirt patch’ by the nurses on the ward, I should have done my recon of the hospital during a weekday rather a weekend. With a quick check of my reflection to make sure I didn’t have lipstick on my teeth, I took a deep breath in and grabbed my packed lunch before beginning the tugging war with my skirt.
As I crossed the pedestrian crossing and thanking the waiting vehicle, I glanced up at the orange sign that greets you at the entrance of the hospital and in that split second, I felt as if I was a little girl playing nurses and doctors in my parent’s lounge room. Through the opening and closing glass doors, I watched as patients went about their business and authority figures walked the corridors while talking on phones. For the second time that day, I found myself asking if I could really do this.
Fixing up my stockings for the millionth time and inhaling, I walked through the glass doors and that was the moment I discovered I had the balls to deal with anything thrown my way. Whether it was explaining a simple procedure like taking a blood pressure or expressing my passion for being educated further on a topic I didn’t know, I knew I was created to become a nurse.
Going through the usual orientation on what is expected of us as student nurses and “what isn’t cool for us to do” and the interesting meet and greet with the other students who’d be undertaking their placement as well, it was time for us to board an elevator. As we chatted to fill the nervous air around us, everyone trickled off to their various departments until there was only myself, another student and my friendly facilitator left.
It was only as the doors parted and I was greeted with a water cooler near the front doors to the ward that I discovered I’d be the only student nurse.
Least to say, I was neither impressed nor excited about being shoved off the diving pool and into the deep end. Not letting on about my internal debate as to whether or not I could survive four weeks without another student sighting, I was delivered into the warm and caring embrace of a fantastic nurse.
Coming home in the early hours of the next day and as my feet felt as if they weren’t going to stop aching any time too soon, I shook my head at how fast the shift had gone. One minute I wanted to grab the hand of my facilitator and plead for her not to leave and the next, I was up and running from the moment she walked away. When thinking about that night of being greeted with a new set of staff, a new destination on the map of Queensland, a whole entirely new hospital and expectations, it had a positive affect on me.
Instead of being in the dumps at the prospect of being the only student, it gave me the opportunity to put my head down and arse up as I ran back and forth between patients.
It was only after I got home and having switched off ‘nurse mode’ was I able to truly understand how beneficial it was in the short amount of time for me. It proved I didn’t need another student to support me with any decision I made as I was able to make them on my own. I didn’t need another student to bounce of creative energy flow because that’s why I had a buddy nurse for and last but not least, I felt as if I didn’t have to dumb myself down.
Something I came to realised that I had done multiple times over the last few years of undertaking placement and when recognising this, I was shocked at how insecure I was at my knowledge. Instead of embracing it and seeking moments to express this knowledge that has been accumulated over time, I chose to bundle it all up in a box and only exerted small amounts at any given time. This time, I was/am completely different and don’t think I’ll be boxing it back up any time to soon.
Dearest Reader, as to moments that I live for aside from being educated extensively, I love moments of being paired with a brilliant, kind and incredibly rich in knowledge nurse like I was that first Monday evening.
During that 6 hour shift where I felt like I spent most of it running left, right and throwing out answers to questions that I’m not even sure what I answered now, my buddy nurse taught me so many things about nursing, what the life of a nurse is really like outside a journal article and textbook and in return, liked to be educated on what knowledge I had. Not once during that shift did I feel like I was an annoying one night stand, who didn’t get the hint that it was time for them to leave.
I certainly didn’t find myself wishing to sit in the closest chair so I could take the pressure of my aching feet, although it did tempt me a time or two but I managed to soldier on and keep up with the pace. That evening only hinted at was to come over the next four days.
Whilst gaining my balance of the ward layout and ‘scope of practice’, I scouted out those who appeared like they could teach me something that didn’t come in a reference journal article or in a textbook. After breaking the ice with “how do you stop your feet from aching after a busy shift” and “what made you become a nurse,” I gained my running feet and strength to take on the nursing industry.
As a result, I have experienced so many things that even now as I stand here typing, I have no clue or idea as to where I should begin as I simply cannot bring the words to mind. So maybe I should start with the Life lessons I’ve learnt in the past few weeks since beginning placement?
My first Life lesson would be trying to control my emotions as I’ve experienced so many in the last two weeks. Where I personally think I’d be a brilliant specimen to look at under a magnifying glass as I battle against the extreme tiredness I’ve been feeling lately or jittering about as I go through another bout of caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Finally, dealing with the ever present thought of ‘why am I nauseous’ while munching away on a savory biscuit.
The tiredness is a result of having to drive 3 hours a day to/from placement and it takes a significant chunk out of your sleeping time. Which is why sometimes I’ve been known to Snapchat at some ungodly hour of the morning as I wait for my car to warm up or leave the hospital sometime near midnight.
My next contender in the emotion department would be grieving or the belief/sense of having lost something. These past two weeks have taken a massive emotional toll on my shoulders and can somewhat relate to the latest discussion on the ward about ‘compassion burnout’. Something which I didn’t know even existed until overhearing a conversation one day and asking what it was.
As a result, for the first time in my blogging life, I am finding it rather difficult to find the words that will convey or express my thoughts and feelings. Or at least attempt on getting them out there. Having just mentioned that, let’s begin with the word EMPATHY and what it means to Oxford Dictionary.
The word Empathy as stated by Oxford Dictionary (2016) is the ability of one to understand, express and share the feelings of another human being. As much as I’ve had said word drummed into my head like a boxer having a go at a speed ball, I learnt that my personal belief of the word hasn’t prepared me for when you should be empathetic towards someone.
I learnt as a result college hasn’t really prepared me in the sense of what comes next in life and that being death. For me and my history of seeing the pearly white gates and writing my own funeral plan, I’ve accepted the fact of one day I am going to die but it is completely different when it comes to another person and their life story.
In fact after four years of studying, countless trips to the hospital as a patient’s family member and working as an AIN, I’ve never really been a witness to what I would describe as a horrifying and slightly traumatic death. Please do not think for any moment Dearest Reader that this person died in extreme pain or died alone, rather it was the exact opposite. They were provided sufficient and adequate pain relief, were surrounded by family members and as a student nurse, I was given permission to enter their world for a brief glimpse whilst attending to cares.
When I talk about it being horrifying and slightly traumatic, I have never actually seen a person in the final stage before the Heavenly gates are opened and they’re welcomed. I have always witnessed the lead up where the person slips into a deep, peaceful sleep and only once have I actually seen a deceased person. Least to say as someone who hasn’t experienced this in any form or shape, it would be horrifying to the senses and slightly traumatic as your natural instinct is to protect them or stop what is happening.
Just like you, I have watched television shows that indict how ‘peaceful‘ someone passing is. Where one minute they are talking before the next scene is them in a coma and they die like that, experiencing no pain. Or if the television character is on life support than the family press a tender kiss to their cheek as they line up around the bed and the life saving switch is turned off. Before its cut away to a wife, partner or girlfriend being supported by a family member as she howls and cries into a shoulder.
What I have come to see and witness as a result of being a nursing student is something that I can only write of as being: undignified and quite stressful. Not only on myself and other nursing staff but also on the family members as they lay huddled around their loved one, just in case they awaken on the hopes of bouncing back. Because of this, it has taught me a lot about how compassionate I am as a person and how involved I become in making a patient’s final breathes that little bit more comfortable and peaceful.
Although I have been told my compassion for life and death will cease to exist once I become a Registered Nurse and I won’t have the time to sit and chat with each patient as I have 8 other people to look after; I sincerely hope that emotional part of me still exists. Out of all my fears and concerns about what my life shall, may and will be like as a RN, I fear that my ‘humanity switch’ as to quote The Vampire Diaries shall be turned off one day and I shall resemble an empty sack of bones with no emotion.
I sincerely hope and pray to God each night when I lie my head on my pillow that I continue being someone who works and believes in their context. The context that delivers more than adequate cares to someone who has passed and no longer is considered “alive” and I am respectful and courteous of their person. Where I continue being the person who shall tell you when a warm cloth will be brought down on your skin to wipe away any fear or lingering concerns you once had.
Lastly, I hope I continue supporting the family by encouraging them to interact with cares as they come to terms with a whole new sense of reality. A reality that has just burst their peaceful world and now have to come to terms with what has to be done. As someone who will continue witnessing, experiencing and encountering death on a daily basis, there is a means of not becoming compassionately burnt out and turning into a robot when it comes to death.
So much so that death hasn’t just lurked around the corners of my hospital corridors, waiting to deliver its next life sentence to the next victim. In fact, death has left the corridors and has impacted the life of people who I love dearly outside the world of nursing.
Earlier this week whilst getting ready for bed, I got a sense of immense sadness and when picking up my phone, I saw a little message appear on the screen. It was then told that my loved one had just lost her Grandad. Instead of being the robotic nurse who suffers from compassion burnout or cannot relate to someone dying in her family, I automatically slipped into grieving mode alongside her for a man I’ve never met and was absolutely disheartened and gutted for both her and her loved ones.
Ignoring the wave of fatigue that crept over my body, I settled under my blankets and started talking. As I automatically started mentally packing my bag for a weekend away, I supported her to the best of my ability through a tiny screen as we lived 2 hours away from one another and I had work the next morning. For someone who was there for me when I lost The Fairy Godfather a few years ago, it was time for me to lend a box of tissues, my shoulder or a warm hug and a bottle of wine.
I guess you can say this placement so far has been bittersweet.
Bittersweet because there have been countless opportunities to improve my skills of taking someone’s Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) if they have been admitted to the ward with a stroke or Transient Ischemia Attack (TIA), perfecting my biggest fear of failing and that being time management and performing ECG’s. Not to mention, I witnessed my first CT scan on a patient’s pulmonary (lungs) system.
If I were anyone else or someone who wasn’t cut out the medical world of nursing and becoming a doctor, I’d be breathing heavily into a paper brown bag and feeling quite faint at the thought of dealing with the unseen. But as someone who has nursing running through her veins like contrast used for a CT scan, I’ve managed to make it half way through this placement slightly used and torn at the sides.
But like they say Dearest Reader, a book that appears to be weathered and has torn pages often has the best story lying between the covers. I wonder who could of thought of that quote? Suspect she was fabulous and incredibly talented.
Yes I do admit as I dance around the kitchen to Earth, Wine and Fire’s September, these two weeks have been a challenge.
The thought of having to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to be out the door by 5 this week and driving in the early hours of the morning since kangaroos like to use your car as a diving board would drive even the sanest person insane. But it has proven to be worthwhile. For it has taught me a lot about what life is really like as a student nurse and secondly as a registered nurse.
So instead of being the person breathing into the paper brown bag, you’ll find me talking in a calming voice and reminding you to “take a slow, deep breathes throw your nose and out your mouth.” But if you were family, I’d probably say “put your head between your knees and kiss your arse goodbye” as suggested in Chicken Run.
Finally these two weeks have taught me a lot about who I am as a person and more importantly, what I am like as a friend.
I learnt that I am the person who would drop a hot guy while he was busily flirting with me over a stack of paper or wooden fence for a weekend getaway of dog sitting, Queensland health allocations for graduate nurse placements and marble flooring. Safe to say, I think if this person were to ever get married and not to a pug, I should be allowed to chose the bridesmaid dress colour and style.
So if this fortnight has been an experience and a half of emotions, Life Lessons and self discovery of how competent I really am as a student nurse whilst dealing with a patient’s life in the palm of my hand; than I wonder what the next fortnight shall bring?
Until next time,