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Jess Doherty on why she’s grateful for her career in psychiatric nursing

Jess Doherty on why she’s grateful for her career in psychiatric nursing

Jess is a psychiatric nurse who loves her job and is grateful for the opportunities and experiences it has given her. It’s changed her outlook on life and helped develop her appreciation of others.

Psychiatry is a unique profession. Out of all of the hundreds of colleagues I have had the pleasure of meeting, only a handful tell me that mental health was the area in which they wanted to work. The rest of us just kind of 'ended up here.'

This is in part, I think, a reflection of those of us who work within services and our attitudes to life, but also perhaps an indicator that people still intrinsically fear and avoid the subject of 'madness.' This to me is a shame. Had I not found myself taking my chosen career path I would have missed out on so much, both professionally and personally.

There is nothing like meeting someone who is unable to remember what they ate for breakfast but can tell you every detail of their wedding day sixty years ago and reassuring them that that is OK; that their important details live on.

I once met a gentleman admitted to an acute inpatient assessment ward for those living with a cognitive impairment. Here he will be known as 'Bob.' His wife of forty-seven years, Beryl, had requested the admission as she felt under increasing pressure as she tried to support her husband. Beryl explained that her husband had become increasingly frustrated and was occasionally physically aggressive.

What was most striking about Bob was that he was mute. Sadly, this is not particularly unusual for those living with the latter symptoms of a dementing illness, but what was unique was that Bob was able to fully understand what was being said to him and was capable of speech (albeit with a level of word-finding difficulty and a stutter). Bob knew that he no longer communicated well and he was embarrassed, so he stopped.

I focussed my individual time with Bob upon building his confidence. I asked him to 'co-write' a poem with me. Ten lines that each started with "without words" with Bob given the role of finishing the sentences. I still have a copy of our work. I think hearing Bob say 'thank you' as he left the unit was one of the most satisfying points of my career.  

There is nothing like meeting someone in the depths of despair, so sad they cannot move, and then watching them recover. As a student I remember working with a lady who had a depression which had led to a state of catatonia. It was my first year in psychiatry and I felt somewhat desperate nursing her as she could not speak nor eat and could barely move. After one session of electro-convulsive therapy she accepted a yogurt from a spoon from me. Her life was literally saved by psychiatry.

There is nothing like meeting a person who believes something so far away from your reality that it could not be true, and then second guessing if you are sure...

I don't suggest that the profession is for everyone. It has its draw backs, granted. But for me psychiatry has allowed me to explore my views of 'normality', vulnerability, social expectation, understanding, compassion, the moral principle behind restriction of liberty for the greater good and importantly how lucky those are whose brain - mind and body - work in harmony.

I wouldn't be 'Jess' if I wasn't a psych nurse and I continue to learn something every day. I am ever grateful to each person I have met on my journey thus far.

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