In the beginning I was what you might call a reluctant nurse. Nursing wasn’t what I had ever wanted to do. After I came to terms with the fact that I probably wasn’t going to be a news reader I was far more interested in teaching or social work and even health promotion at one stage I seem to recall. How could I possible be a nurse? I fainted at the sight of blood for heavens sake. However as is often the way things didn’t quite work out as I’d planned.
In 1992 I left university with a head full of ideas, a mediocre degree in sociology and a place in the dole queue. I wasn’t exactly a hot prospect on the jobs market. With a student loan, an overdraft and rent to pay, I needed a job, any job. I now have no recollection how this happened, but I soon found myself donning a shapeless mint green overall as I became gainfully employed in a nursing home as a care assistant.
Throughout the best part of a year I turned from a nervous arts graduate into an enthusiastic changer of incontinence pads, emptier of catheter bags, bed maker, feeder, and peacemaker. To my utter amazement after a few short weeks I began to enjoy myself and realised this was something I could do. I could care for people who were vulnerable, lonely, afraid, confused and unable to care for themselves. And, I could do it happily. I loved caring for Jessie, a lady in her 90’s with a lilting Scottish accent and a wicked sense of humour; for Elsie who was argumentative, and cantankerous but could always make me laugh and for Bernard, upright and dignified to the last.
I was fortunate during that time to work with a nursing sister who saw something in me I had never seen in myself. She encouraged me to think about nursing as a career. She lent me books, she helped me prepare for the interview and she told me I could do it. With her support and the constant love and encouragement of my parents, (who had already seen me through 3 years of university) I commenced a 2 year accelerated diploma in adult nursing.
Through out my training I continued to be squeamish. I fainted in the operating theatre, I fainted in ITU and I fainted watching babies being born. However what stands out most for me is the incredible nurses I met along the way. Nurses who like sister Diana showed compassion, care and understanding. Nurses who went the extra mile regularly, who despite everything did the best that they could for the patients in their care. Nurses who inspired me then and who continue to inspire me today.
I soon found my nursing niche and as a result of some fabulous placements on Oncology (cancer) and palliative care wards as a student I knew that was the kind of nursing I wanted to do.
That was 20 years ago and after a few years cutting my teeth in general medicine and Neurology and a wonderful spell as a district that is exactly what I have done. I have had the privilege and it is a privilege, of caring for those with cancer and other life limiting illnesses in their own homes in a hospice and in clinics. I like to think I can make a difference to those who are facing unbearably tough situations. A little compassion, care and understanding and the ability to listen goes a long way. These are the fundamentals of good nursing care.
And so on international nurses day as I look back on my time as a nurse I remember with gratitude Sister Diana who encouraged and believed in me. And I am thankful to Jessie and Elsie and Bernard, and to all those other patients who have helped me understand what a true privilege it is to be a nurse.