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The new year is a time when many reflect and something nurses do or learn to do from the beginning of our journeys. This time last year I never would have dreamt I would be writing a post for the Nursing Times, let alone even be a student nurse.
Something happened last January that changed the trajectory of my life. An experience that caused a reflection. I have a son, Harry*. He is 20 years old. He has severe learning disabilities and some complex health needs. I am the luckiest person as I am Harry’s mum. To protect his dignity and privacy I cannot go into exactly what happened a year ago, but it made me realise I could use my experience as Harry’s mum and my professional experience thus far to retrain, become a learning disability nurse and hopefully make a difference for more “Harrys”.
Those who know me will tell you I am proud of my son and will talk about him until the cows come home. He is my world. A cliché, and standard for most parents, but true. Yet, as a student nurse and future nurse this must be my biggest consideration, in not just what I communicate, but in what I do and how I do it.
While exploring options of which course to apply for I spoke to others. One person said, “but they won’t all be as well behaved as Harry”. I didn’t know how to take this at first. It felt like a judgement against my child by someone who didn’t know him, or what our journey had entailed.
I soon realised the context meant and it helped me in my interviews. When asked what the biggest challenge would be for me, I was able to honestly answer that I needed to always look at the wider picture and move away from relating everything to my son and our experiences. To learn those professional boundaries.
It’s a steep learning curve. I am learning when to keep quiet about our experiences, and of course would do so in a professional post. Obviously to protect that magic pin when I have it, but most importantly to protect the dignity, privacy and life of my son.
This doesn’t mean the experience we have, cannot inform my practice, and the practice of others. My course (graduate entry) is very much entwined with all fields. We learn together and branch off for certain bits and bobs. We discuss widely. We each offer the benefit of our experiences.
Time and time again, I have been able to offer stories of Harry and I’s experience and my perceptions as a parent of Harry. Harry does not have capacity, so consent is another whole issue, meaning I am mindful of what I share and how.
“Always keep that professional boundary. Always protect what and whomever needs protecting”
Twenty years of first-hand experience means my nursing journey started way before I realised or thought about. There are times to be self-aware and to reflect proactively, as personal and professional familiarity can, and will, overlap.
For example, at recent life-support training I was upfront with peers and the facilitator that I feared flashbacks or otherwise of memories when I began resuscitation on Harry. Because I shared, it was a safe and positive learning session.
It’s a delicate balance, but it’s a balance that can work. Always keep that professional boundary. Always protect what and whomever needs protecting. However, remember, it’s our personal experiences that teach us the empathy that a textbook cannot.
Harry is the true inspiration as I am sat here typing this as a student learning disability nurse, and the day I lose sight of that is the day I am in the wrong profession.
*Name has been changed