The newborn days are over

My youngest daughter, Alice, is four months old tomorrow and tonight we put her to bed for the first time in her own room. My heart is aching and already grieving those magical newborn days that at the time feel like they’ll last forever, yet here I am utterly flabbergasted at how fast they flew by.

Everyone had already warned me that once you have your second baby, time takes on a new speed, a neck- and heart-breaking pace that you cannot slow down no matter how much you try to linger in the moment. Knowing this, I’ve really made an effort to absorb her sweet little face and tried SO hard to memorize every little expression, movement and milestone. I’ve taken about a hundred photos of my girls daily, in a vain effort to seal those memories inside me forever; I just don’t want to forget anything at all. Even the challenges.

It honestly feels like yesterday that I saw Alice’s beautiful, perfect little face pop over the drape as she was born. It feels like yesterday that she was placed on my chest screaming, then she stopped for a second as our eyes met. It feels like a minute ago that I cradled her, skin to skin, in my hospital bed in our empty bay. No one else, just me, her and the moonlight through the window. I inspected her little cherub body from head to toe, in awe of her beauty and how similar she was to her big sister and amazed that my heart was capable of holding this much love. The deep and wonderful realization that I am the mother to two incredible little girls is a moment that I know I will never ever forget. Our family was, and is, complete.

I think what made Alice’s newborn days fly by so fast is the fact that she’s just such a laid back little baby! She only woke once in the night from two weeks onwards (give or take a few hungry nights) and she’s just slotted in so wonderfully into our family. Ava absolutely adores her and the feeling is mutual; Alice’s little face lights up when she sees her.

What’s getting me through this ache that I’m feeling tonight is focusing on the future – I’m so excited about watching my girls grow up together and there are so many more milestones ahead that we can celebrate together. The newborn days are such a beautiful whirlwind but I love love LOVE watching my babies grow into actual little people, watching them discover the world, teaching them things, guiding them and just thoroughly enjoying every step of our lives together. Sure there’ll be tricky moments, but they just serve to make the sweet moments even sweeter.

So girls, my bed may be empty tonight, you may be tucked up tight and sweetly dreaming in your own rooms. But know this, always know this – my bedroom door, my bed, my arms and my heart will always be open to you, no matter how old you are.

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I’m back… I think

I decided to dig out my old blog following a recent and desperate urge to write. Sometimes I have so many thoughts and feelings just going around in a circle in my head – often unorganised, unhelpful and nebulous thoughts – and I really feel that I need a place to purge them, lay them all out neatly and perhaps analyse them from time to time.

On a lighter note, I simply LOVE to write. It’s one of the simplest and most beautiful joys life has to offer.

To be honest, I’d all but forgotten that I’d even started this. So much has happened in the four years since I began that reading through my previous posts felt a bit like I was reading about someone else. It also brought back the sheer excitement and the ups and downs that I was experiencing during those times, in much more detail than any mere photograph ever could; this just consolidated my love for writing even more and gave me the final push that I needed to pursue what I’ve been meaning to do for so long now.

One of the biggest reasons for wanting to restart writing is the fact that I’m now a mother and more than anything I want to remember every step of this wondrous journey through life with my two incredible daughters. I’m so frightened of forgetting these precious times, desperate to cling onto memories before they inevitably get washed away by the new ones that are continuously being created.

So here I am, back where my dream to blog began and quickly came to a halt when I allowed life to get in the way of something that makes me truly happy. I’m not sure where it’ll take me, or you, but that’s part of the excitement. It feels like a big, blank canvas stretching ahead of me and I can already feel the soothing effect that has on my brain.

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Nursing a nurse.

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Is there anything more terrifying than sitting in handover and learning that one of your patients on the upcoming shift was/is a nurse? 

Today I was in this situation and as per usual, it sent my anxiety levels through the roof. I have no real reason as to why I should feel this way; I’m a very conscientious practitioner, and I know that I always, ALWAYS try my best, no matter how stressful the day is, no matter how the shift may fall down around me. 

Today I just felt like I was sitting an eight-hour long practical nursing exam. On the walk home, deep in thought, I realised that the hypothetical exam situation that I just described would be LESS stressful; it would be controlled and predictable. In real life, on a real ward, things can go wrong and situations can escalate on a massive scale. Allow me to elaborate…

The patient in question today was not in a side room, but a six bedded bay. This meant that I didn’t just feel that she was scrutinising my care of her, but also the care of five other patients. She wasn’t in anyway intimidating, rude or overtly analytical of my nursing but realistically I’m sure as nurses, if we are ever on the receiving end, we nitpick – mostly not out of arrogance, but simply highlighting differences in each other’s practice.

In a controlled exam environment, I wouldn’t have had two admissions and two very septic patients to deal with. I could have exchanged her now-finished bag of intravenous fluids immediately for a new one. I could have collected her urine sample immediately from the toilet. I could have returned her pain relief within one minute of her asking for it. Alas, I had several other complex issues to deal with and things were slightly delayed. I’m sure that she’s been in the same boat many, many times before and completely understood but I must admit, I felt this weird pressure to be perfect.

I’m not going to beat myself up about it, though. I’m going to sleep tonight knowing that I tried my best today and I think I did a fairly good job.

Plus, I don’t ever want to be perfect. In my experience, overconfidence normally breeds dangerous nurses. Never be afraid of doubting yourself a little. It’ll push you to be just that little bit better.

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Evolving roles.

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In one month from now, I will be working on a surgical high dependency unit (SHDU). This opportunity and decision to take it came completely out of the blue – ever since the start of my training, I’ve always proudly told people that I’m more ‘medical’ than ‘surgical’, although these claims were completely unfounded seeing as I had never worked in surgery prior to my current post – all my placements happened to fall under the medical bracket. The huge general hospital I work in is opening the aforementioned brand new unit and when I got offered the post, I found it too hard an opportunity to turn down. I loved the idea of being part of a new and exciting department, plus I’ve always known that after gaining ward experience, critical care is where I feel I’d like to work.

Obviously, my new role requires extensive further training. I got my dates through yesterday via email and just reading them made my insides crumple up with excitement and nerves. The first chunk of training comprises of respiratory assessment and airway management and I was surprised and intrigued to learn that my fellow SHDU nurses and I will be taught how to auscultate (to listen to the internal sounds of the body, normally with a stethoscope). This is a skill that requires unbelievable amounts of education and practice to hone, normally being the remit of the medics and very experienced Outreach nurses. I’m anticipating that many doctors will hold mixed opinions on this and I suppose I can understand why they may feel that we are encroaching on their roles.  Over the last ten years or so, maybe longer, the nursing role has expanded exponentially, sometimes even beyond recognition to the ‘old school’ trained nurses. Again, this fact just adds to the murky, ambiguous role of the modern nurse in the eyes of the public and the healthcare system itself. But is the view that we are now ‘too posh to wash’, ‘too clever to care’, a validated one?

This slight blurring of lines between roles within the hospital ultimately comes down to a higher agenda from the management; in simple terms, the watering down of skill mixes to save money. Healthcare assistants are performing traditionally ‘nursing’ tasks e.g. venepuncture, ECGS and nurses are doing some jobs that were once up to the doctors e.g. cannulation, auscultation. I’ve also read a few posts written by junior doctors recently fearing that they may never gain expertise in some areas, for instance dermatology, as clinical nurse consultants and practitioners are gaining more skills and ultimately responsibility over some areas. The thought process is very simple: give the lesser paid staff more skills traditionally fulfilled by better paid staff and employ more of them instead. Is this always the right thing to do, though? But I digress – this is a complex issue and falls outside the scope of my post.

I do think that sometimes, as a profession, we have made a rod for our own backs in terms of the criticism we too easily open ourselves up to. I am ambivalent towards degree-level nursing training and sometimes feel myself agreeing with some parts of the backlash it has received. I think it has made us look insecure, that we think we need to prove ourselves, that the public and our degree-trained allied health professional colleagues (e.g. physiotherapists, dieticians) will look upon us more favourably and respectfully if we have a few letters after our names also.  Here are my reasons why I’m not completely taken with the nursing degree:

  • People who will not make good nurses due to their nature and personality will not suddenly be transformed into Florence Nightingale because they donned a cap and gown. Nursing abilities can and should never be judged on somebody’s ability to write an essay or a dissertation. Good nursing encompasses so many skills that often take years to acquire and get to grips properly with. A degree will not teach somebody how to care for a dying patient, to comfort a bereft family, to be able to talk to patients from all walks of life, to tend to a patient’s hygiene needs in a dignified manner. It will not prepare student nurses for the sometimes horrifying situations they will have to endure. Of course, a sound knowledge of anatomy, physiology , pharmacology and health policy is required in our role but whether we like it or not, the majority of our skills are practical ones. Student nurses need more time ploughed into clinical placements, being exposed to the nitty gritty of everyday nursing life before they stumble out of university, blinking into the blinding light of being a staff nurse.
  • On the whole, people respected us BEFORE we had degrees. Agreed, I know that I have said that the public don’t really know what we get up to, but speaking out of purely personal experience it’s safe to say that the majority of patients still admire the job we do. We don’t need to desperately try to dazzle people with our brilliance. We do a tough job. They know that.
  • Countless potential nurses – and GOOD potential nurses at that – are being put off starting their training due to the degree route being the only option. The reasons for this are several fold, but seem to mainly come down to the fear of not possessing adequate academic abilities to complete a degree successfully and the financial pressures of funding one. Previously the diploma route offered a fairly generous monthly bursary, meaning that people who were in tricky situations (e.g. young mothers, people with mortgages) were far more likely to make the jump and fulfil their nursing dream. The abolishment of the standard monthly payments and the introduction of a fairly strict, means tested bursary obviously means that people cannot simply afford to be a nurse.
  • I personally took the degree route (the year I did my training was the last that students could choose diploma or degree) and it appeared that the only real variation between the two paths were the completion of a literature review project. Is that really worth potentially warding off thousands of greatly needed potential nurses? Of course I understand the importance of evidence based practice, but surely this can be implemented into the training process without the need of the formalities of a degree?

I think that the training nurses receive needs a overhaul in general. Let’s get back to basics and be proud of what we all set out to do: to provide a gold standard level of care for patients, regardless of what route we took to get there in the first place.

I should go to bed. I’m on the early shift tomorrow and I’ve got a busy afternoon of looking for stethoscopes to purchase online.

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They have no idea.

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I’ve been giving a lot of thought to starting a blog for a long time now. I’ve opened this website then closed it perhaps a hundred times, unsure of what I was really setting out to achieve. A conversation I had with a colleague of mine a few days ago changed all that.

The colleague in question has been an acquaintance since I can remember, our parents being vague mutual friends. We’ve always said “hello” in the street, or ended up at the same parties, engaging in polite small talk, having nothing really at all in common. This all changed when we started heading down the same career path and just recently I have started working on the same ward as her. We were stood in the clinical room preparing medication, just chatting in general when the subject of how nursing affects our relationships came up, not just personal ones but those with our family and friends. 
We both acknowledged that our families were immensely proud of what we do, that they knew it was a pressured environment, that the hours were long and unsociable, the wages were not anything to write home about, we dealt with gruesome body fluids and difficult people, etc (I had the feeling though that these thoughts had their roots placed firmly in cliche as opposed to an understanding of the true nature of nursing). They had a vague idea of our day-to-day struggles and triumphs, but no real clue about what it is to nurse. They don’t really know why some days I get home and my emotions are in tatters and I need to be alone, or why contrarily some evenings I get in and want to embrace every single person that I know, disturbingly aware that life is potentially only seconds away from ebbing away from anyone of us.

We came to the easy conclusion that if our own parents didn’t know what we did, then of course, neither did the general public. I am starting this blog with the hope of opening the eyes of the masses as to the incredible and sometimes suffocating experiences of nurses across the world. 

Also, I often come home unsure of how to process the sights that I’ve seen, the conversations I’ve had, the ample food for thought that most shifts provide. A blog seemed the perfect outlet for this.

I hope that I am able to give a true insight into the career that I believe is the best in the world.

Actually, scrap the word ‘career‘. It’s a way of life.

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