12th May 2015 is International Nurses’ Day. Apparently, it falls on 12th May every year because that was Florence Nightingale’s birthday. I must admit, up to this year, I have been wholly ignorant of this annual celebration. Now though, I can’t think of a better way of recognising the endless care that these wonderful people give every single day.
The Royal College of Nursing is the main driver in the UK’s celebrations of IND. They have a dedicated site where nurses can explain their daily motivations (#whyInurse), and patients can share why they are celebrating the day.
Being back in the Royal Marsden yesterday reminded me again of how incredibly I have been cared for throughout this whole episode, most notably by those gentle warriors in Ellis Ward. It jogged my memory of one nurse in particular, so I thought I would explain just what made her so special to me.
My operation was on a Friday morning, so the following two days were pretty quiet in hospital terms. I didn’t realise it at the time, but as there aren’t any further surgeries taking place, the atmosphere is a bit more peaceful and laid back. More to the point, there aren’t people being wheeled in and out on their beds at regular intervals.
As I explained here, I don’t actually remember a huge amount about the day or so following my surgery. But I do remember this nurse. She came in on the Saturday, a blonde sunbeam shining down into my pit of misery. I had just had the most awful (itchy!) night and was feeling sorry for myself to say the least, but her good mood was infectious, and I, for one, wasn’t going to start slathering myself in alcohol hand gel to try and stave that sort of thing off. She seemed to bounce around the ward from patient to patient, spreading smiles and giggles as she went; the Tinker Bell of nurses.
Sounds saccharine, I know. But I couldn’t be being less sarcastic. The ability to care for people in a gynaecological cancer ward with this amount of positivity, without it becoming sickly sweet and irritating, is a real gift. My boyfriend and I took to her instantly, looking forward to her coming to do her rounds when we knew she would stop for a chat.
A lot of our early conversation centred around my bodily functions, delightfully. She was checking my water jug and catheter bag closely, reminding me to keep drinking lots of water. I’m afraid to say that I am one of those annoying people who really dislikes drinking the old H20. Fully aware of this, and clearer-headed than me, my boyfriend piped up:
“Would it be alright for her to drink anything other than water?”
“Oh yes, definitely!” chirped the nurse. “She can have tea, or squash… or she can have some pop!”
This was brilliant for two reasons. First, I don’t think I’d heard anyone say ‘pop’ since about 1997. Images of lurid magenta Panda Pop being handed round at primary school discos sprung into my brain. And secondly, re-read what the nurse said in a Welsh accent. Yes, she was Welsh. Anybody saying ‘pop’ in a Welsh accent probably deserves an immediate hug.
Sunday came, and as the day went on, my pain was getting worse and worse. No matter how much I clicked the green button, it just didn’t seem to let up much at all. In the end I gave up and pressed the other button, and the nurse in question appeared, as if I’d just rubbed a magic lamp. I explained how I was feeling, bracing myself for the verdict.
There’s something uniquely mortifying about feeling like you’re really up against it and battling hard against adversity, only to be told that the twisting pain you’re experiencing is most likely (drumroll please)… trapped wind. Going that quickly from being oh-so-stoic, to complaining about a fart, can knock the wind out of your sails pretty much instantly (if not out of your digestive system). A feeling of karma niggled at me, which I eventually put my finger on. A few months earlier, I had laughed heartily at how extremely upset a friend’s young baby got when he was trying to pass wind. Max, what can I say? I apologise profusely. It DOES hurt!
Anyway, suffice to say, Wonder Nurse managed to make me feel okay about the whole thing, suggesting I go for a little walk every now and then to try and help. On one of her rounds later that day, she stopped to find my boyfriend chortling away, with me sitting up in bed and grinning from ear to ear.
“What’s happened? You look happy!”
“A little squeak… I did a little squeak!”
I can honestly say that I have never been so delighted, or so public, about trumping. But that is how comfortable she made me feel.
After the weekend, she didn’t come back on shift while I was in the ward. Don’t get me wrong, every single other nurse and HCA on that ward is brilliant, and I was always happy to see whoever was coming in each morning and evening. But after a few days of looking out for this nurse, my boyfriend and I started to wonder whether she actually existed, or had just been some sort of magical apparition in our darkest moments.
We checked with another nurse. She definitely did exist. Not only that, but we also learned that she was very new at the job, one of the ward’s newest recruits in fact. To think of the impact she has already made in her short career; now that’s truly magical.
Caroline Crimson x