Disease is no match for the human spirit | Positive thinking

ConsciousnessIf there is one thing I’ve come to appreciate through nursing, it’s the complexity a single human being is made up of. The brain is one of the most complex things in the universe and it’s right behind the nose! Anatomy aside, the human spirit is quite a captivating thing. The one thing I’ve noticed repeatedly is that a person’s attitude and outlook toward life matters hugely and can effect the progression or regression of illness.

When I was still a pupil nurse, it was new to me to see so many ill people so when I saw a 36 year old female patient wheeling herself into the surgical ward, I was stunned silent for a minute before I could ask what she had come in for. She was battling cancer, had a gangrenous right leg, and was booked to have her leg amputated that morning. While I struggled to come to terms with the state of her body, she kept a smile on her face and said “Don’t worry dear, it’s just a body. I’m made up of much more than this flimsy thing.” I felt embarrassed that she caught me staring but amazed at how bright and happy she looked despite the painful ordeal she was going through. The operation a success, her smile never faded. She kept a great sense of humour, helped herself as much as humanly possible, rarely rang the bell and never spent a single moment in self-pity. If she caught me pitying her, she’d stop me in my tracks. She believed there was still much to be grateful for. I know that there must have been hard times during the diagnosing and treatment process and that she wasn’t overjoyed having to deal with cancer but even though the cancer was destroying her body, she laughed a pure laugh and she strengthened people around her with her spirit and you couldn’t see a sign of sadness in her eyes. What matters is that she could still feel happiness and kept doing whatever she needed to do to live life the best she could, given the cards she was dealt.

On the other hand in another ward, I had a diabetic patient who had gone blind. She couldn’t walk very far because her legs would ache under her weight. She’d cry all day and night, and she’d ask over and over again why God had punished her like this. Her body was full of aches and pains and while we’d do as much as we could to help her with pain relief, she would never be even mildly content. I’d try to comfort her and sympathized with her but she left me feeling a sense of hopelessness around her because she would remain unresponsive to any positive encouragement. Naturally her misery repelled people. Her family would rarely visit her which added to her misery. She wouldn’t smile for a single moment and she would not attempt to help herself or regain some independence. She looked terrible and she was miserable every day. Her ailments were far from a death sentence. With a diet change and a closely observed treatment plan, she could have returned to a relatively normal life but she saw the disease as punishment and so it became punishment and her blood sugar wouldn’t settle. She’d be continuously in and out of hospital, her family abandoned her and we had to hand over her case to social services. She no doubt, will continue to suffer and her condition will get worse if she keeps up that attitude.

Whatever you’re going through, don’t let it consume you. There is something inside of you that’s indestructible and if you keep in touch with it, you will make it through any battle just fine.

Edit: Coincidentally just as I finished writing this post, the song “Inside Us All” by rock band “Creed” came through my headphones! There really is a peace inside us all.

A Spooky Night Shift and a Tragedy…

It was a wintery night shift in the post natal ward, when the midwives from the labour ward called in some of the post natal team to assist with a difficult delivery. The patient was a stage IV AIDS case and she was in no condition to be put under the knife, it was too risky. She was to have a normal vaginal delivery, despite being too ill to feed herself or go to the toilet, much less push a baby out.

A team of about 7 nurses took their positions around the patient; I grabbed her lower right leg, while another nurse grabbed her left leg. There were two nurses pinning down each of her arms, a nurse at the top of the bed, keeping her shoulders down as two midwives manually pushed the baby out by pumping on the patient’s abdomen. The patient was frantic and resisting our actions as much as her weak body would allow. Her screams were haunting and her eyes were wide with fear. The midwives pumped and pumped and pumped, pushing that baby down. If anyone were watching us from the outside, they’d have run screaming in the opposite direction, because I am sure it looked thoroughly evil to anyone who didn’t understand what was going on.

When the baby finally emerged, we were exhausted but happy that the baby was breathing well. The mother remained weak and didn’t even have the energy to look at the baby. We transferred them both to the post natal ward. It was going to be a long night watching over this patient. I shut the doors and windows and checked in on the mother every 15 to 30 minutes. She seemed as well as she could be, given the circumstances. I was ordered to check her vital signs every half hour. Everything was fine until about 3AM. I went to the patient’s room and stood at the door feeling incredibly uneasy. It took me a minute or two to work up the courage to open the patient’s room door and when I finally did, a bird came flying right at me from inside the room! I ducked and let out a little shriek. The bird flew around me and went straight back inside the room. It would circle the patient then sit on one of the bed posts, and then it would circle her again and move to the next bed post and did that until it had a chance to sit on each of the four bed posts, then it would fly toward the closed window, and back around the patient to restart the sequence in the same order as before. The feeling of unease grew increasingly intense. I found the birds behaviour really peculiar as I watched from the doorway for any signs of life from the patient. I wanted to believe she was just fast asleep but the sinking feeling in my stomach told me otherwise. I quickly ran to the window and pushed it open to let the bird out and it flew out almost immediately, disappearing into the dark misty sky.

I called out the patients name, then shook her shoulder slightly…no movement…no pulse…she was dead. Her eyes wide open and her face spelling terror, I was thoroughly creeped out. The doctor declared her dead while I searched the tiny room and the entire ward for any opening the bird could have come in from. All windows and doors were closed and there were no open vents that it could have sneaked in from. It was quite a large bird so surely I would have noticed it in the room before? Why did it appear in this particular room at the time of this woman’s death and where did it come from? Why was it up at this ungodly hour? These questions played on my mind as I sombrely thought of the now orphaned baby in the nursery who started crying uncontrollably. I held the baby with tears in my eyes and stared out the window, as the birds started to come out of their nests, and for the first time, instead of feeling at peace watching them, I felt an irrational sense of anger toward them….as the baby’s cries grew stronger…I held him close. His little face remains burned into my memory. I can never forget him. I remember every little spot on his tiny body. Life is difficult and to think if I hadn’t become a nurse, I’d be probably safe and sound in my boyfriends arms, not even aware that a beautiful little boy had just lost an amazing mom. A woman who would literally die for him and did exactly that…

Nurses! Backache isn’t necessarily just a symptom of being a nurse!

I recently discovered some shocking news that a RN I used to work with died of Cancer. She complained about back and body pain for ages but dismissed it as part of the package when you’re a nurse. Every nurse experiences backache…nothing to panic about right? She was oblivious to that fact that she had cancer until 2 months prior to her death. She continued serving others until the day she died.

Yes nursing is the noble profession and you do have a tendency to put others first when you’re a nurse…but there are times when you’ve got to use your skills and intuition to take care of yourself and that’s probably the most important thing you could do for the world and yes, for your patients too. We need more nurses…not less…so do everyone a favour and go get yourself regular check ups. You know better than to ignore persistent pain! Think about what you would tell your patient to do…

Afterthought: I find it really aggravating to know that in South Africa, the hospitals don’t provide regular mandatory checkups for health care workers. We’re surrounded by doctors and medical equipment everyday. It wouldn’t take much to have free health checks for staff at least 6 monthly, if not every month. Does your hospital provide you with regular check ups? Are there gyms freely available? Do they provide counselling if you’ve been through emotionally taxing experiences? Nurses are human beings not machines…with the kind of work we do, our employers owe us a lot more than a pay check.

Avian Mum vs Human Mum

I came across this YouTube vid of a little robin hatching. The mother robin knows exactly what she’s doing, keeping a watchful eye, guarding and warming her eggs. She attends to the hatched robin like a pro and clears out the empty shells as soon as the baby robin is free from it. Next the baby bird raises its head to the sky, and opens his beak wide to receive food from its parents.

When a human baby is born, it immediately turns its head to the side if you stroke its cheek and it will open its mouth up wide, looking for the nipple. Oddly enough, I’ve met a countless number of new mothers who didn’t know what to do next. I thought humans are supposed to be the superior species? Like any animal, humans have instincts but it seems that we’ve become a lazy spoon-fed society. Mothers have suffocated, drowned, poisoned or dropped their babies by accident and very often the nurses get blamed for it. “There wasn’t enough patient education given.” they say. Yes, I do agree patient education is VITAL but I’d like to know what happened to human instincts nonetheless.

Basic common sense, anyone?



All sounds like common sense to me. Believe it or not, I’ve had to wash babies that were covered head to toe in their own poo because the mother skipped diaper changes a few times through the night. Mothers have unwittingly suffocated their babies while they were sleeping or dropped them because they weren’t careful enough not to leave the baby on an unguarded surface. Some don’t even bother wrapping their newborns in blankets properly before going to sleep. The robin in the video, provided warmth, safety, food and hygiene (bare necessities) to its young and they didn’t need a nurse telling them what to do!


Theme Hospital for every hospital manager

didithemehospital2_2I’m extremely stoked to find that they’ve released an HD mod for an old game that I used to play, called “Theme hospital” by “Bullfrog”. Surprisingly it still works perfectly despite being more than ten years old and it still looks great. I used to play for hours in my teen days, before I had any idea that I was actually going to become a nurse someday, and practically live inside the walls of a hospital for a good few years! An unintentional manifestation I call it. I think I was enjoying the game a little too much!

I used to enjoy managing the staff, hospital budget, equipment and patients in the game. It felt really satisfying when you got through a challenging level and started building a good reputation, so that you could earn more money to improve upon your hospital. Of course the games’ difficulty level could never match up to the real thing but I often found myself thinking that the management at my hospital could do with a good game of Theme Hospital because they don’t seem to have any management skills at all. Perhaps the game could reinforce some basic principles.

It teaches you that staff should be kept happy, with a relaxing staff room, a nice salary and as little overtime as possible. If you failed to budget, and couldn’t hire more staff to assist overworked staff, your hospital literally collapsed. Patient happiness depended on the quality of care and you had to keep your staff happy, to keep your patients happy. If you didn’t do proper queue management (prioritize patients), your patients died in the hallway and you’d suffer the consequence. Control of infectious disease, cleanliness, comfort, maintenance of equipment and staff education mattered hugely in the game and were the deciding factors on whether you passed or failed the level.

These were the types of things that didn’t get enough attention at the hospital that I worked for. They’re so lax on training staff you could be an LPN (staff nurse) for years before they’d allow you to train again (depending on your skin colour of course!). Staff were continuously unhappy and overworked, the patients were always complaining because they weren’t getting the attention they deserved (not enough staff). If this happened in the game, the hospital manager would have her name plastered to the hall of shame and she’d be fired. But in South Africa, criminals become presidents, so why not hire total idiots to run our hospitals?

On the lighter side, I do wish we had patients with funny illnesses like ‘Bloaty Head Syndrome’, ‘Slack Tongue disease’ and ‘Elvis Syndrome’ – at least staff would have a fun day at work.  I love this game. Try it out sometime. 🙂

Joplin Missouri Tornado destroys hospital – medical staff Heroes

joplin-hospital-chopper-300x225As you probably already heard, 116 people died on 22 May 2011, in Joplin Missouri as an enormous tornado unleashed its wrath upon the town. Buildings including the local hospital were ripped apart and destroyed. The Joplin hospital crisis is of particular interest to me, simply because having worked in a hospital, I imagine the staff and patients of St. Johns Regional Medical Center were not having an easy day.

Windows were blown out; equipment was blown 5 blocks away. The parking lot was like a junk pile of mangled cars and a medical helicopter lay damaged on the ground. 183 patients and about 200 staffers were evacuated from the hospital. Apparently 5 others died. The tornado left Joplin residents shaken.

I remember going through evacuation procedures and drills almost every other day at the hospitals I’ve worked for, but I’ve never been in a real emergency evacuation situation before so I can’t picture the scenario at Joplin (St. Johns) hospital to its full extent.  But I do know this, there were people who went the extra mile to lend a helping hand to a stranger and barely any of them will ever be named. Hospital staff loaded patients on pickup trucks and did whatever they could to get them to safety. In just 90 minutes, the hospital was evacuated. While they were taking patients to safety, many of them were likely worried about their own family members, but still put their patients first, making them nothing less than heroes. They are no doubt still working around the clock to get the situation under control.

We once had a staged bomb threat at a hospital I previously worked for. No one was informed that it was just a drill, they even had a bomb squad present to sell the story to the staff. I happened to be off that day so I missed the action (and was actually glad for it). The staff were ordered to evacuate the building immediately. In any evacuation they tell you to help as many people as you possibly can without endangering yourself. Obviously some patients would be difficult to move around. The staff carried out the evacuation well but I was particularly impressed with a senior RN I’ve had the privilege to work with.  She decided that she was going to stay in the building with any patients that couldn’t be moved on time. She was fully aware that the longer she stayed in the building, the higher the risk was that she may die, but she refused to abandon her patients. While I don’t necessarily encourage nurses to sacrifice their lives for their patients (you’re more useful alive than dead), I am comforted to know that superheroes don’t just feature in comic books. They could be standing right next to you and you wouldn’t know it until a crisis arose.

Joplin, Missouri is devastated by this monstrous tornado but if you try to look for a little light in a dark place, it’s usually found in ordinary human beings, doing extraordinary things to help their fellow man. You can help too by donating to any of the organizations as listed on CNN – click here.

Let’s do it like they do on the discovery channel!

Creativity is a form of expression and releasing it naturally feels great. Nothing feels more satisfying than something you’ve created with your own hands. When you create something, it doesn’t matter what form or shape it takes, it doesn’t matter if you’re the only one who understands its meaning. What matters is that it expresses feelings from within yourself (be it pain, happiness, anger, excitement, sorrow or anything in between) and that it serves to either relax or invigorate you, often giving birth to new ideas that could very realistically change your life for the better.

I understand we all live busy lives but if you’re really honest with yourself, you could make room for some creativity. If you refuse to let your creative side express itself, you’re limiting your potential for growth. The only real way for you to understand just how much creativity could improve your life (at work, home and socially), is by trying it out!

It could be anything that interests you! Scrapbooking, writing, drawing, knitting, singing, dancing, music, gardening, cooking, whatever it is, as long as you’re using your imagination.

In my case web design served as a form of creative release and kept me sane during my nursing days. It became such a huge influence in my life that it became a full-time career and I was able to walk away from nursing completely, unlike most burnt out nurses who believe they have little choice but to stay in a career that’s no longer doing it for them.

Perhaps if I can’t convince you that being creative is a vital part of your very nature, nature itself could convince you…check out these creative creatures!

If that doesn’t inspire you to get off the couch and do something creative, then I don’t know what will!

Scroll down for more art by elephants:

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue,
Go to www.ExoticWorldGifts.com
Support an Elephant near You!
Elephant porn? lol – This was done by a 16 year old male elephant.
Better than any drawing I’ve ever done of a tree!
painting done by elephants
Now, if they can do this with their trunks!
What the hell is your excuse?!
Go get Creative!!! 🙂

Demon Granny Reborn!

When I served my "internship" at the old age home, one of the grannies I took care of was always distressed about her children wanting to get rid of her so badly, that they dumped her at an old age home miles away from her hometown and never visited her again. She would call me into her little room full of cigarette smoke, cry her broken heart out and tell me how much she longed to go back to her hometown. Her voice was raspy from all the smoking she did. I understand that certain circumstances don't allow you the time and resources it takes to take care of your frail family members but at least admit your parents into an old age home that's close enough for you to make a Sunday visit!

Mrs. Nel died a very unhappy woman and if there is such a thing as hell, then her kids are going to get to know the devil very well.  The unfortunate reality is that justice will never be served, and like all the assholes of our world, her kids are sleeping easy at night and living happily ever after…or perhaps they are about to receive their comeuppance?

I think I just discovered her rebirth on YouTube! This baby talks exactly like Mrs. Nel used to speak and she has the same square facial features! I'd like to imagine that this is her, returning for revenge! Bwahahahahahaha! (When there is no happy ending, make one up!)

"Why you do this to me, Dimmy?" – Demon from The Exorcist

Nurses – the unacknowledged heroes!

g_493972045When I was 16, I needed to have my wisdom teeth removed. The surgery was not available in my hometown, so I set out on a road trip to Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. I was admitted next to a woman who seemed to be in her thirties. I don’t know what she was admitted for (I’m awkward with small talk), but I do know that she was unable to walk to the toilet, so the nurses would bring her a bedpan. Somehow she always managed to feel natures call just before lunch time and the smell would brutally violate my nostrils every time, killing my appetite! She had no problem eating though and she gladly ate my lunch too.

I’d watch the nurses bustling about, doctors scribbling orders, patients walking about with their booty exposed through their hospital gowns (the hospital gown made little sense to my teenage mind).  The nurses’ routine seemed a bit excessive to me. I wondered why they spent so much time tidying up the beds, only to find that the patient ruffles it up again in a matter of seconds. Checking vital signs every 4 hours also seemed a bit much since I was a healthy 16 year old just trying to get my teeth removed. The anaesthetist came to ask me “pre-op-like” questions and the doctor ordered blood tests.

It is quite a stimulating experience getting a front row seat in a hospital ward. The wonderful thing about the nurses was that even though they were always visibly stressed out, they always smiled when they spoke to me and they frequently checked in on me. Even though I didn’t think they should be spending any time worrying about me, it did make me feel much more at ease. When the doctor did his rounds, it was always intimidating; he would mumble foreign words to the nurse and he always seemed too busy to be bothered with little things like translating medical mumbo jumbo into simple English. The nurse would explain things to me and in effect, I would imagine her as my friend and the doctor as an evil villain (I’ve always had an overactive imagination).

Sleeping in a hospital is a bit freaky. Patients started screaming in the middle of the night, some of them were crying, some were vomiting and if I’m not mistaken one of the patients died but I can’t be too sure, because the nurses did a great job of keeping me sheltered from it. I could smell my neighbours’ bedpan deposits while I watched the nurses creeping around silently in their ghostly white uniforms. I just couldn’t wait to go back home.

At about 5AM, just when I finally nodded off to sleep, the lights went on and the nurses cheerily said “good morning”. I was taken by surprise; 5AM was still NIGHT TIME as far as I was concerned! They started distributing thermometers and checking blood pressures, helping patients bath, tidying up beds, prepping patients for surgery and writing reports. They all look exhausted, like they had been through hell and back and while I could sympathize with them quiet easily, I had absolutely no idea what they actually went through until I myself became a nurse.

I frequently complained to my friends and family about the woes of nursing but none of them understood it the way a nurse would understand it. To put it simply, nurses are the true heroes in any hospital (the hardworking ones that is) and they truly hold everything together even though they don’t get recognition for all their efforts. The public in general tend to recognize bad nurses more easily than they would recognize a good nurse but if you do meet a good nurse, do your best to show some gratitude (a little gratitude goes a long way), because he/she is doing far more than you know to keep everything in place.

Happy Nurses week to all the wonderful, strong, hard-working nurses out there, I may have quit nursing but I take with me everything you guys taught me about what it takes to be a truly outstanding human being.

If you know a nurse, do something nice for her during Nurses Week, she rarely gets anything back for everything she gives – and she gives a lot more than you could ever know!
(I am not a nurse anymore, so no I’m not hinting to anyone that I want something nice done for me!)

Naked with Nurses

Someone asked me what nurses think about when their patients undress. For the most part, we’re thinking, “damnit, when’s my coffee break?” We never really look for anything on your body except abnormalities, scars, bruises etc. – this is required for our notes. Basically, if you look like the picture in the anatomy and physiology book, then there is nothing to see and we eagerly move along. Female nurses have an easier time dealing with female patients than they do with males. In fact I felt anxiety when I was assigned to the male ward in the hospital I worked for. They called it the snake park. It was difficult to work there as a new nurse. I didn’t want to deal with that. It was when I had to put on a condom catheter for a patient that I realized that it’s twice as uncomfortable for the patient as it is for the nurse. I didn’t want to be there but at least I was allowed to keep my clothes on! The patient swatted my hand away as I was about to put the catheter on for him. I left him alone until I could find a male nurse to help him. It’s unfortunate that nursing is female dominated and it’s not always possible to find a male nurse. I was actually grateful that he refused to let me help him. It’s acceptable for the patient to refuse a procedure but it is unacceptable for the nurse to refuse to perform her duties unless she has a really good reason to refuse.

As time passed I felt less and less awkward about it. Though I much preferred working in a female-only ward.

Then there are the freakishly obese, absurdly skinny and deformed people – I admit to gasping inwardly at the sight of some of these bodies. Especially those who’ve lost limbs to gangrene and other diseases. It’s shocking to see what a disease can do. It’s however in our nature to quickly look the person in the eye, smile and go on to performing your duties.

To answer the question simply, for me, it was never about how sexy or unsexy a person is. I can’t speak for all nurses but I felt the need to rush through the procedures as quickly as possible and have the patient get dressed as quickly as possible. If you can pick, choose a nurse that’s of a gender you feel comfortable undressing in front of. If you don’t have a choice because there are no male nurses available (as is often the case), don’t let your anxiety prevent you from seeking the medical help you require. You most likely look just as normal as a clothed person to the nurse that probably saw hundreds of naked people before you and still has hundreds more to come after you. Also we are taught in nursing school to do our best to preserve the dignity of the patient. That includes, keeping the patient dressed or at least partially dressed most of the time. We are taught to cover the patient and expose only the necessary parts of the body for the procedure at hand. If you don’t feel it’s necessary to be completely naked, speak up instead of getting upset about it. The medical staff will respect your wishes and find a way to make you feel comfortable. If your never-nude policy prevents you from getting the treatment you need, you really need to figure out your priorities.

Seeing so many naked people has its side effects on nurses though. While people often say you can never see too many naked people, I have a feeling I am not the only nurse that would disagree on that sentiment. Nurses become desensitized to the sexiness of a naked body. I was walking on the beach, amused at the look of awe on my friends face as he stared at the half naked people on the beach. To me there was nothing hot about it. Basic anatomy intact – nothing special. Oh well, at least I am one of the few people who go to the beach just to be on the beach…FML…