Do Nurses Really Make Good Patients?
One nurse takes a personal view and tries to understand why being a patient is worse for nurses than other people, and how we can use the experience to benefit our own patients in our future care.
24th July 2017
Written by Ruth Underdown
Becoming a patient is terrifying for anyone. Becoming an inpatient when you’re a nurse, even more so.
I’m the first to say that I’ve been very lucky. The only times I’ve been admitted to hospital have been when I was a pre-schooler with moderate to severe asthma, and then as an adult, having my 3 children.
My admissions to hospital for childbirth have been far from straight forward. The first two deliveries resulted in emergency caesareans and, most recently, the third for an elective caesarean complicated by the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder induced from the second delivery.
I will admit, I’m a terrible patient. The midwives and doctors in charge of my care suffered endless questions and the need to rationalise every intervention.
I’d read all the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and NICE guidelines surrounding elective caesarean delivery prior to my last clinic appointment. Quite frankly, I was obnoxious! ‘It’s more of a colicky pain than a surgical pain. Can you get buscopan prescribed for me please?’ I was heard to say the day after the surgery.
In a profession where the highest compliment you can pay to a colleague is ‘I’d let you look after me!’, going in blind to a place where you have no control and a modicum of understanding and awareness of what can go wrong, is a terrifying experience.
Even when things are going well, we (nurses) try to maintain control of the situation. Imagine being a patient with no experience or understanding of the processes and procedures?
Some say that ignorance is bliss, but it also leaves you vulnerable and at the mercy of strangers.
Being a patient, and a nurse, gives us some insight into the vulnerability that our patients experience daily. It allows us to empathise better with them. When your medication doesn’t arrive on time because of lack of staff, or the service is overwhelmed, it brings this into sharp focus.
No pain relief, struggling to move independently and feeling so utterly helpless to even go to the toilet, were all timely reminders to me of how it feels to be a patient.
And yet, at every turn, the staff were patient and caring towards me, no matter how many pressures they were under to look after the many other women and babies on the unit. They did not display the much-maligned signs of compassion fatigue depicted by the stories that regularly hit the headlines, even though they were undoubtedly under huge pressure. They smiled and kept on keeping on, just like we all do in the NHS.
My experiences of being a patient will allow me to go back to the floor after maternity leave, with a reawakened sense of responsibility to understand the needs of my patient as a lived experience and not one of task and duty; something we all need in these times of increased pressures.
As always, I have high praise and regard for my colleagues in the various sectors of the NHS, and they deserve to be recognised for their skill, professionalism and tolerance by more than the paltry 1% pay rise that the government has afforded them.
Maybe MP’s should live the experience of an NHS patient to fully understand why a pay rise is so deserved?
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