Life on the wards
February 14, 2014
A long long time ago, when I used to work on hospital wards, nurses were assigned to one particular ward and the doctors would be covering a number of different wards. So obviously the nurses would spend more time with each individual patient than we did and would get to know them better.
In those days nurses did nursing. The caring, the chatting, the feeding, bathing and hand holding. As well as the routine observations or ‘obs’ as they were known, that they filled in on the chart at the end of the bed. To be honest the latter were the least reliable bits. Pulse and temperature they usually seemed to manage OK, BP a bit hit and miss and hardly ever was respiratory rate recorded correctly – they just seemed to take a guess. Fluids in and out could be fairly random, but unless there was a concern over the patient’s kidneys as long as they were peeing we were happy. And for the vast majority of patients it was the human care that they were getting from the nurses that was by far the most important. Obviously in the wards where patients were very sick, then the observations took on a greater importance and were done with more diligence. But still the nurses did the caring. The gentle rinsing out of dry mouths with swabs, helping people to the toilet, painting nails and washing hair if they had time or the hairdresser wasn’t available, changing dressings, changing sheets, plumping pillows.
And we of course would swan in, white coats flapping, following the Consultant on his ward round (and they were nearly all ‘his’ in those days), trying to anticipate the questions and furiously writing down the notes and instructions being barked at us. Sister would push the trolley round and hand out the notes of the relevant patient. Each Consultant had their own preferences, which Sister knew all too well. One would want to be handed the patient notes, another would want the Registrar to have them. We’d view the XRays by holding them up to the windows, or move to the light boxes if we wanted to see real detail. In these situations Sister was far more senior than we were and could silence you with a flare of the eyebrow if she thought you were going to annoy her Consultant. She prided herself on looking after his every whim and making sure everything was ship shape.
Curtains around the bed would sometimes cause a few stifled giggles (and a raised eyebrow from Sister) when they would appear to have a life of their own and trap people in them. Or when they would simply peel off the rail completely when you pulled them. But the best comedy moment of ward rounds I have been on was when the Consultant, a fairly bumbling, untidy kind of guy, somehow got the zip of his trousers caught in the handle of the notes trolley. When Sister set off for the next bed he was suddenly yanked at such speed that when she stopped as soon as she realised what was happening, he still travelled forward so that his head ended up in the files and his feet shot out from under him and he accidentally kicked a junior doctor in the nuts. It was like something from a Carry On film; Sister mortified at what she’d done, the Consultant with bright red marks on his face where the metal bits of the files had dug in to him and his trousers still caught up in the trolley, one SHO (junior doctor) bent over nursing his groin, and me and a nurse desperately trying not to laugh.