Whenever I’m feeling ill, physically or mentally the Northern One always tells me that having a shower will help me to feel a bit better.
Every time I don’t believe him and yet he’s always right.
I don’t know why feeling clean makes a difference to my mental health; whether it’s because I’ve actually managed to do something on days where I manage to do very little or because it just helps me to feel a little bit more normal.
It reminds me of a lady I looked after when I was a student and a day where I actually felt like I was a really good nurse.
The ward that I was working on for this placement had lots of patients who had been suffering from different types of cancer and who had undergone surgery to try and remove large tumors. As a result they were left with large open wounds that needed packing with complex dressings, often in places that made it difficult for them to do much apart from lie in bed.
I was frequently put in charge of a bay of four women and so I became very friendly with them and they with me. They had all been on the ward for a number of weeks and were all rather fed up as a result of being bed bound unless one of the nurses helped them get up.
I spent a lot of time talking to these women, one of whom had had a particularly aggressive cancer and the surgery to remove it had left a very large wound. The resulting crater on her leg not only required packing with several different types of dressing the dressings also had to be attached to a large negative pressure vacuum machine in an attempt to gently pull the edges of the wound together to help it to close and heal.
During one shift she told me that what she would really love was a shower because she felt so sticky and grubby but that there was no way she’d be able to manage it because she couldn’t stand up for very long and she was permanently attached to her ‘vacuum cleaner’.
I said that so long as she was happy for me to help her of course she could have a shower. I explained that we had shower rooms large enough to put a chair in so she could sit down, I’d make sure that the dressing and the vacuum machine didn’t get wet and that I’d even wash her hair for her if she liked.
We pottered down to the shower room; me, the patient, stack of clean towels, clean nightie, toiletries bag, chair and vacuum machine. I developed some serious upper arm tone as a nursing student.
I helped the lady to sit down, take off her nightie and wrap herself in a clean towel so that she wasn’t completely exposed. Being careful not to get her dressing wet I washed her back whilst she washed her face, arms and upper body and then knelt down to wash her legs for her as she couldn’t bend down. I made sure that she felt properly clean and then I washed her hair, being careful not to get any shampoo in her eyes.
Then I helped her to dry herself off, get dressed into her clean nightie and I towel her hair up in a fresh towel so that it didn’t drip all down her back. By this point I was sopping wet, having only had flimsy plastic apron that only came down to my knees. The the water from the shower had sprayed all over my tunic top, soaked up my trousers and my socks and shoes were somewhat squelchy by the time we’d finished.
We walked back to the bay and settled her back into bed. While we’d been in the shower one of the other nurses had changed the bed linen so there was a nice clean bed for this lady to get back into. She was tired even after such a short excursion but she kept saying how much better she felt and how she couldn’t get over how a shower could make such a difference.
That was probably the first time as a student that I felt like I could actually be a good nurse. I’d built up a relationship with my patients, I’d been able to organise something that wasn’t medical but would really benefit the patient and it had really made a different to how she was feeling.
At the time the newspapers were full of articles about how nurses were ‘too posh to wash’ and lacked the capacity the care and yet here I was, spending the rest of the shift with soggy socks for no other reason than because having a shower had made my patient feel better.
It’s something I try to remember on the days when I don’t feel like a good nurse or when the newspapers have published yet another story claiming that Florence Nightingale would be turning in her grave if she could see the state of nursing today and readers are lining up to comment on the appalling care they’ve received.
I’m in no doubt that some people have received abysmal care and clearly there are some nurses who should never have been allowed to register but these are few and far between. Yet sometimes, according to the media it seems as though their are awful nurses working in every department in every hospital in the UK and those who comment seem to agree. The voices of support for nurses are often few and far between.
I distinctly remember phoning the Daily Mail a few years ago to ask exactly where they had got the ‘statistics’ they published from. The woman I spoke to was so patronising that when I ended the call I threw the phone across the room because I was just so angry.
I knew that I cared about my patients, whether they were adults or babies and regardless of how or why they were in hospital.
I know that I still care and that I will always continue to care and if I every start to doubt that I will remember washing that lady’s hair and my soggy shoes and how much more comfortable she was when I helped her back into her clean fresh bed.