Today in the nature of my working day which has just finished I was reminded of the time I was a staff nurse on care of the elderly wards and a matron of a care home. I must confess I was not a matron like Hattie Jacques or Nurse Ratchet, probably somewhere between Channel 4s ER series Carole Hathaway and BBC Casualty’s Duffy. Duffy was always my hero and role model when I started as a student nurse in 1987. It seems so long ago, in the days of nurses buckles, caps and mercury thermometers. I think BBC Casualty had started around the same time and I loved tuning in each Saturday to see Duffy soothingly calm the sick and needy as well as gather the attention of a certain Charge Nurse ; )
One of my first jobs was on the care of the elderly wards where I really got a great grounding for how to run a ward, manage staff, as well as really care for the elderly like they were your own family. There was nothing I loved more than to help the nursing auxiliaries bath the patients and do their hair up in curlers or get them up dancing. We really had time to spend with them, hold their hands when they were ill or confused and ultimately when they were in their last moments. I can honestly say we always tried to ensure 1-1 for those patients in their last few hours so they were not alone.
The most hilarious moments I remember as a young staff nurse was seeing a wheelchair with a lady sitting in it pushed by a porter and she was holding a load of bags and a pot plant. This must be my new admission I thought and proceeded to help her out of the chair and sit her onto the freshly made bed. As the porter left with the empty chair, she leaned in and said “This is awfully sweet of you nurse, but I am actually visiting Mrs Miggins in bed 2, and these are her belongings and pot plant from the other ward!”
When I was a Matron of a care home we always had issues with false teeth. One morning one confused patient had gathered all of the false teeth from peoples lockers and placed them in a row on the fireplace. Imagine my horror when I came into the dining room to see a young carer promptly taking her initiative and “trying” each pair in turn on the patients without teeth to see which was the best fit. I seem to remember we had some ways of marking them after that, but the amount of call outs for the laundry machines repair guy for false teeth in the wash was nobody’s business!
With the current situation I felt sad and angry today for a while, sad that in this climate I would be losing those residents to such a horrible disease, those who were like my own family. Those residents who had fought in wars, survived the great Spanish flu and all manner of other life tragedies and ailments to be perhaps wiped out by blessed COVID-19. I know for a fact that carers work so hard in and out of care homes, whether in the community sheltered housing or the peoples own homes. I know they put their own lives at risk, will sleep on the premises at times when there are not enough staff due to them also being affected. I know they will be having sleepless nights and anxious about the risk to themselves and families from exposure to the virus or lack of PPE. I take my hat off to carers and always try and do whatever I can to make their job a little bit easier, because I know exactly what it means to care.