Once upon a time I worked with adults.
I hold a degree in adult nursing and when I renew my increasingly expensive professional registration each year I register as an adult nurse.
However, I do not like nursing big people.
I became disillusioned with adult nursing at the beginning of my final year of training. It was cemented by the final placement of that year where the only thing that got me to the end of my degree was my job offer on NICU.
I spent the last 8 weeks of my life as a student on intensive care where 80% of the patients were there due to having destroyed their bodies through alcohol abuse. They ranged from young to old and came from a variety of backgrounds. Some had partners and children, others had their own parents sitting at their bedside. They were all so different but at the same time so similar, united by the alcohol that would invariably kill them.
I don’t drink that much, not for any moral reason but because but makes me sleepy and then I annoy my husband by trying to find a corner to nod off in. There was the holiday with the ‘muchos margaritas’ incident and the house party where me and a friend set fire to her coffee table but we’re not going there.
I worked permanent nights for those eight weeks, listening to the patients in the darkness.
The moans of pain from multi organ failure.
The incomprehensible screams from brains stained with the waste products from livers no longer able to support their host bodies.
The quiet sobs of parents whose 23 year old daughter had just passed away after her body had given up.
Earlier that day she had screamed in pain and fear when we changed her position in the bed, trying to make her comfortable.
All due to alcohol.
That was when I knew that I couldn’t work as an adult nurse.
I couldn’t spend the rest of my working life caring for those people whose illnesses could have been avoided.
Clearly no one wants or chooses to be an alcoholic; an addiction is an illness not a lifestyle choice and still need compassionate nursing care.
After those eight weeks I knew I wasn’t strong enough.
People, even other Nurses frequently say to me that they don’t know how I do my job. How do I cope with looking after tiny, helpless babies knowing that they won’t all survive.
I find the absence of reason far easier to deal with; that is most cases we don’t know why they were born early or why their bodies didn’t develop properly.
The not knowing helps me focus on the present, on the now of doing what I can to care for those babies and support their families. I can’t think “What if” because most of the time there isn’t anything that should have been done differently.
By knowing that nature or God or something else has deemed that these babies are sick, with no apparent rhyme nor reason I go home at the end of most days at peace.
During that last placement as a student, even though I was exhausted I couldn’t sleep.
Instead I thought about how the lives of those patients could have been different; if they had had more support, if they had engaged with healthcare services earlier, if they hadn’t had that first drink.
I thought about the stories the families had told me while they kept vigil and their loved ones bedside.
One girl had wanted to be a chef
One womam who had three small children
A man who’s family had tried everything to stop him from drinking.
They talked to me about these shrunken, wasted people, whose skin was yellow from liver damage and whose limbs were contorted as a result of the effect of the alcohol on their brain.
I was not strong enough for them to lean on.
My shoulders were not broad enough to share their pain.
They needed strength that I just did not have.
Now I go to work and I am strong enough; to look after the babies and to try and ease the pain, to see the anguish of the parents and try and make it a fraction easier for them to bear.
I sit with them and listen to them talk or just share their silence.
I put my arms around them and their tears soak into my uniform.
I hold their hands and tell them that their baby knows that they are with them, that they love them and they are not helpless.
That even though their baby is to sick for them to hold, that they have had to relinquish the care of their child to a stranger there is no one more important in their baby’s life than them.
I am strong.