Despite my healthy lifestyle I have unfortunately experienced hospitals, both as an In-patient and an Out-patient, more times than I like to remember! The brilliant comedian Tony Hancock recounts his hospital experience in the famous 60’s Blood Donor skit, where he compares a nurse’s lot with that of a model.
I quote – “It’s a vocation nursing……..one of the highest callings a woman can aspire to…. ..it’s not for the money. It’s strange the different values we place on society. You take modelling……some skinny bird up the West End……. all bones and salt cellars…… 50 quid a week And then there’s your nurses, 3 years training, getting paid next to nothing, humping great trolley loads of mince around all day long…… I say, is it right?”.
Today’s models still earn ridiculously high fees, whilst nurses a pittance. Little wonder we can’t recruit youngsters into the nursing profession. One of my immediate family is a midwife in the West Country, whilst another has worked her way up through nursing, to become a Senior Manager of a large NHS hospital. So, I know from personal experience just how dedicated and hardworking nurses can be.
Nursing is still traditionally considered a career for women, but it’s not very conducive to home and family life. Men are more attracted to areas of medical care such as physiotherapy, as they find it difficult to support a family on low nursing pay. Nursing is no longer regarded as a vocation, nor nurses as angels, who dedicate their working lives to the service of mankind for little financial reward.
In 1988 I was found to have breast cancer, surgery was the recommended treatment. I was frightened, vulnerable and very alone as I entered the hospital the evening prior to my surgery. With a mixture of efficiency and empathy, the nurse kept me occupied with form filling and medical procedures, required prior to major surgery. She was my first line of contact and information. I bombarded her with questions which I had been too nervous to ask the surgeon, she competently answered, occasionally giving my arm an extra touch of reassurance, as she checked my blood pressure and pulse.
Over several hours we built up a feeling of trust, and I relaxed into the hospital environment and routine. Together we looked at the consent form I had to sign, in order for the bi-lateral mastectomy to be performed. We carefully checked the words and I signed, realising how important it was for me to take control of what the Surgeon could, or could not do, to my body during the operation. Flowers arrived and nurse bustled off to find a vase, leaving me to come to terms with my hopes and fears.
Later that evening the night sister came to attend me. A comely black lady, kind and efficient, with a generous manner and comforting smile. After a bath I got into bed, with the vague hope of getting some sleep. Nurse offered me a sleeping pill, but I choked with emotion. She put her arm around me and cradled me like a child, and with strong conviction she assured me that everything would be fine. She suggested that before I settled down we said a prayer to Him, and together we did so.
Very early next morning my original nurse greeted me cheerily, checked my blood pressure and, after I bathed with a special pink anaesthetic rub, gave me two pills to make me sleepy. I laid back in fear and trepidation, but nurse was very kind and reassured me, as I was manhandled onto the trolley and taken down to theatre. I had given many performances in my time, including two in West End theatres by Royal Command, but as I was wheeled to theatre I vowed that performance would be my finest!
When I woke up I felt a flash of the most excruciating pain I had ever felt in my life – and then, instantly it seemed, blessed relief as the pain killers were injected. Nurse said I had been in the theatre for four and a half hours. She told me that everything had been done, and slowly and happily I realised that she meant everything – the bi-lateral mastectomy, followed by immediate reconstruction of my breasts. I had dreaded waking to find only the biopsy had been performed. That would have been the case, if there had been any doubt about the presence of cancer. Nurse and I had discussed this possibility when I signed the consent form. She sensed my relief, and squeezed my hand. With my mind at rest and my pain deadened, I dropped in and out of sleep, the worst was over. But the kindness of both nurses lingered in my memory throughout that incoherent day. I still believe in angels!