Before I started my nursing degree, I was set on going into paediatric ICU or neonatal care. This mindset promptly changed when my first placement was working with elderly people in community rehabilitation and respite, from my first day I fell in love with the team and patients. I was wary when I first went for my induction days as I had little idea what to expect in spite of my research into what the unit did; all I knew was that it was dementia friendly and I would be working with elderly people.
Prior to starting the placement, I investigated what communication adaptations are used for people with dementia, which conditions are most prevalent in the ageing population and how these are managed, and importantly how long it would take me to get there in the mornings! I can remember being so nervous when I had to phone them up to try and coordinate my induction days, but once I had been able to speak to the clinical lead he invited me in the following week and the ball got rolling with my first ever placement as a student nurse. My first day on duty started and to get to grips with the way things worked I was paired up with a rehab assistant, she took me under her wing and showed me the basics of carrying out personal care for patients, she showed me how to fill out the patients end of bed documents to show what we had done with the patient, what they had eaten, and other charts monitoring different aspects of patient care. One of the most memorable things I learnt from this particular rehab assistant was special step in the process of a bed-pan wash, which since I adopted it patients unanimously enjoyed that step in their morning routine, which did and still does give me a warm feeling inside, as the patients would express such gratitude for the patience and time I took to carry out their personal care, which as a nervous first year student nurse was incredibly appreciated as it made me feel as though I was seen as part of the team by the patients.
I live with a chronic illness and as such I use mobility aids – this doesn’t change while I’m on placement and it has led to a variety of reactions from the people I encountered on shift. Most patients ask questions, and joke around saying that I should be in the hospital as a patient with them. Due to me having a crutch they would be more open about the level of pain they were living with, as when I would walk into their room or the bay they would almost always ask “what have you done to your leg?” and I’d respond with “Oh, I have a chronic pain condition, something a bit like arthritis”; this would then lead to an open discussion about what pain the patient experiences, how they experience it and what do they do to manage it, whereas other staff wouldn’t typically be able to get such an informed response from the patients when they would ask about their pain, not through any fault of their own I believe patients would just recognise that I would be able to understand their experience of pain better.
On the flip side, some of the staff I worked with (I would just like to make it abundantly clear that 99% of the staff I worked with were incredibly supportive and lovely around me and my disability) were not so positive about my disability, one remark I remember vividly was “Oh, so it limits your nursing then” which was said as though it was a fact – it isn’t and wasn’t – and as though it was something abundantly clear to all of those listening, I wasn’t entirely sure how to respond, I was completely taken aback by someone saying this to me, as while yes I am aware that there definitely are some things I would not be able to do independently as a nurse. I strongly refute the idea that my whole career will be limited due to my disability as I’ll still be able to administer medications, perform observations, emotionally support my patients, advocate for them when they need me to, and a whole variety of other roles nurses carry out. When working in an MDT it is important that all members have some form of understanding about what the other roles carry out so as to prevent such broad assumptions being made in the future.