Thursday, 5 July 2012
I’ve ummed and aahed about whether to write this post or not. I’ve asked myself if it’s the right or the wrong thing to do, and wondered if I should forget it altogether and move on to another tale. But I think, on balance, that I should. That it’s important to know such things exist. The thing I speak of is the bad nurse. Not the grumpy, overworked nurse who may be under so much pressure she or he snaps at you once or twice. Nor the exhausted, tearful nurse who’s done one too many shifts that week and is at breaking point and looks, for a moment or two, like he or she doesn’t know what they’re doing. No, I’m speaking of an arrogant, unpleasant, dictatorial nurse with a complete inability even to contemplate the fact that any view but their own is the correct one. I speak of the male nurse who came on duty for one day and had a profound effect on the whole ward, or at least the woman in the bed next to mine, and me. Well into the night, and long after he’d gone.
It was three days after my surgery. The very sick lady in the bed next to mine had pulled back her curtain and was feeling well enough to chat and we bonded quickly. She was the first person I’d ever met with Crohn’s who was more ill than I’d ever been. She had two bags and multiple lines, not to mention ulcers that were refusing to heal. She was so thin from lack of nutrition, due to malabsorption, and she was lovely. We had a good laugh together, shared our fears and our experiences, and she was the one who confirmed for me for certain that the hag in the bed opposite had indeed told me to ‘shutup’ when I was retching. She was nicer than me though, the woman in the next bed, and she didn’t really like me calling the nasty old woman ‘the hag’.
Now I had someone to pal around with, I looked forward to a relaxing day on the ward – all smells, grumpy hags and excruciating pain aside. And then he arrived. The male agency nurse. I met him as I was hobbling to the shower, my back bent to protect my tummy scar, my bum cheeks tightened in an effort to comfort my butt wound. He stopped me and asked why I thought I should shower now when he was about to do obs. I told him I’d got as far as the ward door and I wasn’t going to turn back after so much effort. My sore eye was half closed, so maybe he thought I was winking at him, and perhaps that was why he let me go without further complaint.
Every bed on the ward has a table, and on these tables we each had at least one packet of dry wipes. I had two. These were important to all of us for using when we changed our bags, but they were also indispensable to me for when I had to wipe my eye after squirting the hourly ‘natural tears’ dose into my scratched cornea. They were soft and comforting and I always liked to take a couple of packs of them home with me, if I could swing it. When I came out of my shower, they were gone. In their place were ugly little packets of hard, coarse tissues, the same non-absorbent texture as the toilet paper we used to get at school. Except for the fact that it didn’t have ‘now wash your hands’ written across each sheet, this stuff was exactly the same as that stuff, and it was of no use for either of the purposes I required of it. I asked a nurse where our dry wipes had gone, and she said that ‘he’ (the horrible agency nurse – in this post, I always mean him when I say ‘he’) had said the ward looked unattractive with them on our tables and had ordered them all replaced with something he found more aesthetically pleasing. I looked at my new pal, who was equally bemused and she shrugged at me. There wasn’t much we could do at this point.
After my shower, once I was back in my funny blowing up and letting down bed, it was time for my obs and for my dressings to be changed. Every day, on my surgeon’s orders, my tummy dressing needed to be changed, and my butt wound checked and redressed.. The agency nurse came to do it, starting with my obs, which he did with little grace, clearly angry that I hadn’t been available to have them done when he wanted to do them. He took my temperature, my blood pressure and my pulse silently, then I asked him to do my dressings. He did the tummy one easily enough and then made as if to leave. I told him there was still my Barbie butt to check on and dress, thinking he’d be amused at the witty term. He didn’t bat an eye. He also didn’t check my butt wound. I told him it needed to be checked – that it was a risky wound and needed to be looked at daily. He ignored that and started to tell me how to do the dressing myself. The dressing was just like a sanitary towel; I’m a woman – I know how to put such a thing in my knickers, but I lay there aghast as he mimed pulling panties down and shoving the pad in, then pulling them up again. Livid and upset and not a little bit intimidated, I told him I knew that, but that the wound needed to be checked. The surgeon wanted the wound checked every day. There was a high risk of infection because of where it was, and I couldn’t possibly contort myself into a position to see it. He started to explain once more how to put the pad in, started doing his stupid mime yet again, and I realised that for whatever reason, he was not going to be looking at my butt wound. It’s embarrassing having a wound there, not to say potentially humiliating, but all the nurses and doctors and surgeons had done their best to normalise it; to make me feel it was okay, they’d seen hundreds of them, it was no big deal. Now here was this horrible man, who was supposed to be a nurse – the kindest of creatures, in my experience – making me feel disgusting for wanting him to look at my bleeding, suppurating, sewn up anus. He left and I hated him. I couldn’t see my butt wound, but I could and did put a new dressing into my knickers.
I tried to stay quiet for the rest of the day and keep out of his way, but there came a time when my dose of anti-emetic was due. I was still on morphine and if I didn’t take an anti-emetic (anti-sickness drug) I would vomit. And I didn’t want to do that for a million reasons, not least because I didn’t want to arouse the ire of The Hag again. So I had to call for a nurse and of course he was the one who came. I told him I needed cyclizine and he said he’d get an injection. I told him that I usually had it through my central line. He told me I’d be better off having it as an injection, and I pointed out that if that was the case, I would surely have been having it as an injection. He argued with me for some time before he stomped off, furious, not having given me my cyclizine. After a while, one of the lovely nurses came and did it for me, and it was only then I realised he probably wasn’t trained to administer drugs through a central line, in which case why hadn’t he just said so? Why had he chosen, instead, to argue with me and try to make me feel like everyone else had done things incorrectly, and he was the only one who would be doing things right? So unsure was I about this reading of things, that I actually checked with medics on Twitter before writing this – he was that powerful in his intimidation that even now, 8 months after the event, I wasn’t quite sure I’d read things right. It’s amazing how bad a bad nurse can be.
Finally, his shift was finished and he was handing over to the nurse who was on night duty. Standing at the foot of my bed with my chart, he read that I was on 6 codeine phosphate at night and told her ‘That sounds like a lot, but it isn’t – we often do that for pain when it’s as bad as Wendy’s’. I interrupted and told him I wasn’t on the codeine for pain. I was – and am still, and have been since 1985 – on it to regulate my bowel. The nice nurse smiled knowingly at me, but he ignored my words. Then he said, ‘Actually, I don’t know why they’re not measuring her output, they should be, every time she empties her bag.’ If the surgeon hadn’t seen fit to order that, who the hell was he to be making such a judgment? On his one day on our ward, this person had me shaking with rage, wanting to shout at him, but knowing there was little point, and also feeling a bit scared and nervous of the man who’d already made me feel repellent once that day.
Late that night, I was getting up to go and empty my bag when a nurse stopped me – a lovely, warm, kind nurse, whom I knew well – and said, ‘If you’re going to empty your bag, Wendy, you need to take a jug and measure your output.’ I was gobsmacked. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘It says on your chart,’ she told me. I was incredulous; he’d actually written it down. ‘That’s not a doctor’s order,’ I told her, ‘You know who put that? That agency nurse.’ I could feel my voice wobbling, my eyes filling with tears of frustration and anger and disappointment in myself for not having had a go at the jerk when he was there. The nurse looked at me and laughed wearily, in a way that said she’d experienced him before. She took the chart and crossed out what he’d written. ‘Forget it then. I’m sorry.’ And I was free to empty my bag as normal. To forget him. I wish I could. I’ve been so lucky and so blessed with the nurses who have treated me in the more than 25 years I’ve been going in and out of hospital that this hideous man came as a huge shock. And I know it’s been 8 months, but so far, I’ve found it very difficult to forget him. Even as I write this, I can feel the fury bubbling under. A bad nurse is a very dangerous thing. I think I’m probably fortunate that all he did was humiliate and intimidate me.