Tag Archives: nurses

Careless Words

I have an amazing friend.  After years of struggling with alcohol, she’s managed through a great deal of pain and endurance, and a little help from AA, to stay off the booze for 4 years.  She pointed this out to her GP recently.  His response? “Good .  Now you need to lose some weight.”

Another friend tells a tale of talking to a doctor about fibroids.  They discussed whether it could affect her fertility.  On finding out she was 35, the doctor said, “Well, what have you been waiting for? You need to get on with it.” She promptly burst into tears.

I can tell a couple of stories too.  The time a midwife gave me an injection just before I was due to have a D and C to remove my miscarried baby.  ‘Injection done.  That’s the worst over with.” Really?  The time a doctor berated me for putting on weight before realising I’d been on a large dose of steroids for six months.  The time a consultant who’d never met me before insisted I was facing the rest of my life on dialysis.  He was wrong.

Everyone can put their foot in it now and then.  I’ve dropped some right clangers in my time.  But I think working with patients requires an extra effort in choosing the words you use.

I have another story of a junior doctor, who came across me in tears after I’d received bad news.  “Fiona,” he said.  “This time will pass.”  He was right, and like the ill chosen words above,  those 4 words he uttered have stuck with me and helped me through the darkest of times.

Dear NHS staff.  Us patients are really vulnerable.  We’re often at one of the most difficult points in our lives.  Our conversations with you are about intensely personal subjects.   We’ve waited for hours for the doctors round on the ward.  Or months for the outpatient appointment.  You are the person who we think can cure us.  Or who we trust to care for us when we can’t care for ourselves.  We hang on your every word and analyse them after you’ve gone.

Careless words might not cost lives, but they can cost peace of mind.   And a loss of confidence in those who are treating us.   But well chosen words can bring hope too.  Remember that when you talk to us , and remember that your words will stay with us long, long after you’ve moved onto the next patient.



A visit from St NHS

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the ward,

Not a patient was sleeping, just one who snored,

The charts were hung on the bed end with care,

In the hope a consultant soon would be there,

We shivered cold under thin blankets in bed

While visions of warm toast danced in our head

One overworked nurse and a health care assistant

Ran ragged while machines beeped with relentless persistence,

I lay in bed wondering if sleep would arrive

The night stretched ahead, so hard staying alive

When out in the car park there arose such a clatter

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter

Away to the window I flew in my gown

Gaping cotton, bare back, with loose ties hanging down

When what to my wondering eyes did appear

But a tinsel-clad ambulance with lights blue and clear

With a little old doctor so lively and quick

I thought for a moment he must be St Nick,

But with a voice full of cheer he did loudly proclaim

‘Santa’s old hat.    St NHS is my name!’

Then with garb crisp and bright as the new fallen snow

His troops from the sky he did call to come low

‘Now Doctors! Now nurses! Now healthcare assistants!

Come cleaners. Come caterers.  Give your commitment!

To the ward! To the ward! Give it your all!’

And with that,  they all flew right through the wall.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard by the stair

A clumping of boots; St NHS was there.

He was dressed all in white from his head to his foot

With a stethoscope hanging down from his hood

A bundle of pills he had flung on his back

A thousand new treatments peeping out of his sack

His eyes – how they twinkled! His dimples how merry

A hundred clear drip tubes tied round his belly

A glistening syringe he held tight in his hand

To pump us with painkillers if we’d so demand

He spoke not a word but went straight to the job

His troops filled the ward, armed with pillow and swab

They tended, they cleaned, the doctors knew all our names

The toast on the trolley was warm when it came

Three pillows appeared at each of our heads

A duvet was laid with care on the bed

In a flash waiting lists were a thing of the past

And the dirt in the washroom was cleaned up at last

Even the ward nutters stopped shouting their ills

And for once everyone in there got the right pills

We all had our own nurse, firm but kind as can be

The TVs were working, the car park was free.

And then with a nod, and a burst of hand gel

He was off with naught but a short farewell

His blue lights flashing and tinsel glistening

Patients asleep, just me still listening

And I heard him exclaim ‘ere he drove out of sight

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night”



With a little help from Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)










Nurses as Angels (…and agency angels)

Now let’s get something quite clear from the start.  Nurses aren’t angels.  They used to be in the 1950s.  And  a bit later in those Sue Barton books.  You know the ones where Sue always tenaciously saved the day despite mean colleagues, a monster matron and an uninspiring love life.   And of course nurses are still sometimes angels in the tabloids, or occasionally angels of death if they’ve done something very wrong.  But in the main part they are actually human…and consequently have the same foibles and good or bad days as the rest of us. Some are cheery, some are grumpy, some are super efficient, some forgetful and disorganised, some are thoughtless, some can’t do enough for you.

The problem nurses (and us patients ) have though is all of these characteristics are magnified simply because of the job they do. When you are vulnerable, possibly at your lowest ebb in life, the actions and attitudes of the people around you can lift you out of despair or pin you firmly down at rock bottom.   Like many patients I’ve had both extremes.  I’ve had nurses talk over my head complaining about their shifts while they prepared me for a biopsy, not noticing I had tears pouring down my cheeks.  I’ve had nurses carelessly give me the wrong medication or ‘forget to give me lunch’.  I’ve heard nurses with strong accents shout at elderly patients just because the patient couldn’t understand what was being said.  But for each of those angels who failed to live up to even the smallest of expectations, I’ve met plenty whose humanity and thoughtfulness made my life in hospital much more bearable.

These days there’s alot more expected of our nurses too.  Most of us still think of them as people whose job is to hand out pills, make  good hospital bed corners with sheets and extremely  thin blankets and say “there there” when we need it.  They do all this of course but for some, nursing has become an extremely technical and specialist career.  I was blown away by the expertise of many of the nurses who looked after me during three weeks in intensive care.  I’d been extremely ill and on a ventilator for 5 days.  I had numerous issues, a rare immune system condition,  and many symptoms and blood results that were baffling the doctors.  Julie looked after me for several days after I had been brought out of sedation.  She did all the ‘normal’ nursing things for me, gave me bedpans, rolled me over to stop me getting bedsores, got me eating and drinking again.    But after a few days I realised she was doing so much more.    It was Julie who was really keeping across my condition minute by minute in the day, examining me and looking at blood results for any discrepancies.  It was Julie who was  constantly checking the many machines I was hooked up to, keeping them working and checking the readings.    It was Julie who would effectively kick off  the discussion during  the doctors round at my bedside, expertly summing up the latest results, sounding as if she was a consultant with many years experience.  And then when the doctors left she would gently offer to wash my hair to make me feel better.   She was an extraordinary human being  with what felt like encyclopaedic medical knowledge and an angelic touch.

And while we’re on the subject of angels, let’s not forget those who fly in from an agency.   Brought in often at the last minute to cover a shortfall in staff, some of them from outside the UK with not so perfect English.  Not got a great reputation outside hospitals – and I suspect  among permanent staff within hospitals.  I don’t buy it.  A good nurse is a good nurse.   The agency angels might not know the systems on the wards  or have been on the compulsory course run by the hospital trust to allow them to give you your pills, but they are just as capable of making you feel better or worse as a patient.  One of the best nurses I ever had was from an agency.   Rupinder had come on a night shift and found me sat up straight in my bed with an oxygen mask on.    I’d spent three long nights in that position, feeling unable to lie down to sleep because I couldn’t breathe.  My kidneys were not working as they should, I was bloated with many kilograms of excess fluid and when I lay down it felt as if the water would rush into my lungs drowning me.  I was scared and gasping for breath.   The nameless registrar at the end of the bed had looked at me quizzically and told me there was really nothing to worry about.   He prescribed me oxygen, and disappeared leaving me to spend yet another night bolt upright, awake listening to the beeps and snores around me.  Rupinder could have left me that way too.  Looking back, rather than there being a specific medical problem, I think I was probably experiencing panic attacks and she recognised that.  So instead of retiring to the nurses station like the rest of the staff when the lights went out,  she came back to my bed and got me up.  She took me out onto a fire escape and got me doing relaxation breathing exercises over and over again.  She did it the following night too, after which I lay down for the first time and slept.

And mostly it’s alot simpler than that.  Nurses- if you’re reading this, it’s a cliche but guess what , that cheery smile and a two minute chat does make a difference.  It’s like being singled out for attention by the most popular girl in class.  It makes us feel better.    And as a nurse, surely that has to be the main aim of your shift.  To help make us better.  We will be pathetically grateful to you when you do.