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.


11 Responses to “Life on the wards”

  1. Rachel Black Says:

    Hi Sarah

    Apologies for not getting back to you before.
    I chose anaesthetics as I am impatient and like how the drugs work NOW. I used to despair on a medical round when they said ‘we’ll increase the frusemide and re-check things in a week’. As well as acute pharmacology I also continue to marvel at normal homeostasis and physiology: how my body can diversify to cope with all my crazy diets, how glucose metabolism keeps the brain supplied during my feasts, famine, long runs, long sleeps etc amazes me. That probably sounds a bit sad but I’m not the other Inspector Gadget type of anaesthetist.

    I don’t know if I would choose the specialty again. I hope I would be brave enough to choose pathology next time! But for the moment, anaesthesia pays the bills and keeps me out of the shops for most of the week and I won’t be giving up the day job anytime soon, unless my fledgling writing career takes off significantly!

    Best wishes

    • Thanks Rachel – I have been trying to comment on your blog but keep getting thrown out by the system I don’t know why. I really enjoy your writing so am sure your career change will take off!
      I know exactly what you mean about the immediacy of anaesthesia and critical care. And the responsibility/accountability. And the body is just amazing I agree. Although I wish mine were a different shape lol xx

      • Rachel Black Says:

        Hi Sarah, sorry about my blog. I’ve double checked the settings and can’t see anything to change. Everyones comments are allowed. I find I cannot comment on blogs using my iPhone even although I have the blogger app on it. I can spend ages pecking out a highly witty message, press publish and it tells me ‘can’t leave comment box empty!’ so frustrating.
        You’ll need to tell me your thoughts on the contract re-negotiations. I’m in Scotland so as you know the (lazy useless) BMA have declined to get involved for us.
        bye for now

  2. Rachel Says:

    hilarious Sarah. Can just imagine it with my stuffy consultants in my medical house job.

  3. Kate Says:

    Two stories here Sarah – both deserve space. Good writing – as ever. X

  4. THe trolly can be dangerous esp if the patients race them through to halls.

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