I have been reflecting on an extraordinary time last week, when I returned to the wards for the first time in 24 years.
I have been redeployed from a sexual health clinic, and I am now doing 12-hour shifts in elderly care. My first week was a total baptism of fire and I am trying to make sense of it all.
Sexual health is now a limited telemedicine service and I was really excited about being redeployed. Waiting to hear about where and when I would be starting took me right back to my student nurse days, when the announcement of placement details was greatly anticipated.
Just like then, I wanted to know where I would be going, who would be coming with me and what the ward staff would be like.
I was relived that the staff on my ward were extremely welcoming and have done their best to orientate me to elderly care. They have patiently explained things and answered my questions and tolerated my lack of speed. It takes me ages to do the drugs. They all sound like Harry Potter spells and looking them up eats time.
I was naively under the impression that I would be going to bolster up the ward team by backfilling those on sick leave or in self-isolation. The reality is that re-deployed and bank nurses outnumber the substantive team and we are all having to pitch in and create a new norm. Meeting so many new people has been incredibly sociable, which seems ironic in these isolated times.
I am staggered at how old and frail the patients look. The ward is full of ladies in their 90s and they look so poorly, in contrast to the fit and well patients I am used to in sexual health, most of whom are younger than me.
I am shocked by the generalised practice of referring to patients by their bed number. It dehumanises people and depersonalises care and I am on a personal mission not to conform.
I have never been a fan of a-12 hour shift and working one on the ward has been a killer. I cannot believe how much I have been on my feet – we get to sit down to talk to people in our sexual health clinic.
At the risk of sounding like a total Luddite, I would happily throw all the iPads into the sea. They simply slow down the time to record observations, give me a paper chart any day of the week.
Apologies to the nurse academics who no doubt will offer some perfectly sensible rationale, but as far as I can see, the patient documentation is a ridiculous amalgamation of complex charts that reduce the patient to a tangle of scores.
“It is a joy to unearth buried skills like delivering an insulin injection or putting up an IV pump”
The most useful way to get a sense of the person, is to do what I have always done, look at the narrative of the nursing notes.
The delivery of care is at breakneck speed, the heat on the ward is positively tropical, my ears are sore from the mask ribbons and my ankles are the size of an elephant’s at the end of the day. I am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted at the end of every shift, but despite all this I have totally loved getting back to giving fundamental care.
I had forgotten how rewarding it is to wash a patient and make them comfortable or to expedite a longed-for discharge. It is a joy to unearth buried skills like delivering an insulin injection or putting up an IV pump.
At the start of the week I announced my redeployment on my Facebook and Twitter accounts and received the greatest response that I have ever had.
I have been blown away the good wishes and positivity. This has been totally uplifting and I am grateful for it, but I can’t help feeling that perhaps it is misplaced.
The real heroes are my surrogate team who do this every single day. I am in awe of their fortitude and grateful to contribute in these difficult days.
Ruth Bailey is nurse team leader, Sexual Health and Contraception (SHAC), Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust