I am a doctor, trained for 10 years, highly qualified. But I wouldn't be half the doctor I am today without nurses. From my first days on the wards as a medical student, with no idea about the human body, nurses have helped me. To a few days ago when I didn't know which dressing was best to put on a leg wound, nurses have helped me. This is a small, unworthy tribute to all the hard working nurses in the NHS. It involves a lot of cups of tea.
I learnt to trust nurses implicitly as a junior doctor in paediatrics. It was my first job. Paediatric nurses are unflappably calm and infinitely cheerful. They can talk in a soothing voice in the face of terrified parents. They can distract the whole team during the tense care of a tiny newborn, while handing every essential piece of equipment over at the right time. I watched them work and learnt so much. During a busy night shift, I was run off my feet. It was winter, and there were five poorly children waiting to be assessed, as well as a whole ward to care for. The only other doctor was on the special care baby unit, looking after a poorly newborn. Then another phone call - another admission. A poorly three-year-old girl with a fever at the local walk in centre just next door. Could they send the child round? I took the details, jotting them on a scrap of paper and carried on. I vaguely registered two worried parents walking past, carrying a blanket wrapped child. The nurse went to take some details, check the basic observations. She came back barely thirty seconds later.
"Zoe, I need you."
I gestured at the piles of papers in front of me, halfway through admitting another patient.
"I'll be there in a second."
"No, Zoe. I need you now."
One look at her face was enough. She looked sick. I dropped the papers, grabbed my stethoscope and went to the bed. She - ever the professional - was back to smiling, chatting with the parents. I looked at the small head poking out of a blanket. I didn't understand. She added in "I'll just let Dr Zoe have a little look" then removed the blanket. The small head extended to a small body, a deathly colour, and covered in the rash every nurse, doctor and parent dreads. Meningitis. It was everywhere. I tried to follow her lead, keep my voice calm, but inside I was thinking "Oh God, oh God, oh God". As I ran to get help, I could hear her gently telling the parents that we would need to move their little girl soon; that there would be a lot of people but not to worry, we would look after her.
Over the next hour, I worked alongside a whole team of nurses to try and save this little girls life. They were amazing. When I felt like a spare part amongst the senior doctors, they guided me. As she was whisked off to intensive care, I felt so wrung out I was ready to drop. I had another eight hours to work of my night shift. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. Instead I was hugged. I was force fed tea and biscuits. I was supported for the rest of the night. I couldn't have finished that shift without those nurses.
On Boxing Day on the medical wards, I had worked non-stop since 8am. It was 4pm when I finally made it to ward five. They had been waiting for me for six hours. I had rung to let them know I was finally coming. When I arrived, ready for complaints and recriminations, there was a hot cup of tea on the desk, a pile of drug charts each with a post-it note stuck on. On this was written exactly what each patient needed and the name of their nurse. When they realised I hadn't eaten all day, the Quality Street were duly passed over, some toast rustled up, and I had my first chance to sit down for eight hours. I was so touched by their kindness. They didn't know me from all the other doctors in the hospital - they didn't have to make my day that bit easier, but we were a team.
In A&E, when I was scared of the abusive drunks, the nurses stood with me and put them in their place. They joked about teaching me how to be assertive. I think I learned...
In return, I rolled up my sleeves and helped clean the patient covered in bloody faeces after a huge bleed from their bowel. I cleaned the trolleys if my patient was sick on them. I made the tea.
In surgical on-calls, I covered all the wards. Randomly, the nurses could put catheters in female patients, but not in male patients. So they got me instead. Except the urology nurses with 20 years experience knew a hell of a lot more about putting in male catheters than I did, even though they had never been allowed to do one themselves. As I learned on the job, each time one of these experts stood at my shoulder, talking me through the procedure. When things went wrong, when I couldn't get the catheter in, when the patient was bleeding and in pain, they kept me calm and made quiet, confident suggestions. Little tricks to try that you only learn with experience. All I had was the title "Doctor". They had all the knowledge.
On the obstetric wards, the midwives helped me through the rollercoaster of delivering babies. Learning to work alongside each other, we went through miscarriages, stillbirths, and hundreds of tears. When things go wrong in labour, they go wrong fast and they go wrong badly. Midwives take it all in their stride. Emergency buzzers are routine; nothing panics them. The good obstetric doctors know to ask the midwives when they are struggling. And with a wry smile, they are always helped.
Now as a GP, when I start at a new surgery, it's the nurses I spend time with. They give me the background on any complex patients. They don't laugh (much) when I try and bandage things. They teach me tricks for taking smears I never knew existed. When I have a bad day, they are there to support me. I try and return the favour, but it always feels like they have got it cracked and I am still learning.
Many nurses I have worked with have their own worries, their own stress. They have young children, teenagers, husbands, wives. They are struggling working long shifts for too little pay, because they love their jobs. The NHS is a massive team. We support each other every day and the patient does so much better because of this. But the team is being pulled apart and patients are suffering. On 9th January, nurses are marching to protest against cuts to NHS student bursaries. Please, support them. Please listen to them. We are a team. #bursaryorbust
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