Is hope a good thing for dying patients?

I had been working myself to the bone. There was never enough staff on board. I had injured myself trying to tug and pull and move very sick patients around. Did my best to get their bodies cleaned up and dress them but I was exhausted. The matrons saw me as a nuisance and a rebel. I was calling in sick more often, complaining about the state of things. I have had an amazing track record before. Never skipped a single day. They forced me into a ward that I couldn’t perform my best in and left me unsupported. I tried hard to come to terms with it. There was one particular night I actually forced myself to be optimistic so I went into the wards without a mask on. It was symbolic of my determination to commit to these patients – I would not recommend taking off your protective gear though…it’s a stupid thing to do. I wanted to pick them up, lift their moods, treat them with respect. With so much to do I barely had the time to do such a thing usually but I wanted to try anyway.

I went in there, a mask-less hero, opened the windows, used my most cheerful voice, greeted the patients with a sunny “goood morning ladies!”

A pouting patient didn’t want to move or wake up…I touched her shoulder and said “Hey, come on, it’s morning. The tea will be coming around soon. Lets get you cleaned up and you should brush your hair. You are going to be okay! You can do this! You are strong!”

I realized my mistake only when she responded with “Are you sure I’m going to be okay?”

Was I putting false hope into her head?

“Yes. You are going to be okay.” the words slipped out before I could even stop them.

She looked at me thoughtfully. My mind went haywire. Omg, did I just tell a patient she wasn’t going to die? Did I overstep the line? What do I do? I imagined the words in my head…”no sorry, I didn’t mean that you’re going to live. You’re dying.” – there’s no way to say that without sounding like a cold-blooded crazy person. They don’t live in my bubble. They’re about to lose their lives. My need to make everything pretty may not be welcomed. How do you deal with this? How much optimism is too much? Is false hope better than no hope? What if all you need is a change in mindset and you could live a better life even if you are dying?

Great, back to cold, grey reality while I mull that one over. I reeled in my optimism and went on with my routine. This time, keeping my big mouth shut.

There is nothing worse than a sleeping nurse!

sleepEvery profession has their slackers but I think everyone can agree that hospitals should have little to no room for slackers. It’s unfortunate then, that in South Africa it seems the slackers outnumber the worker bees and it’s one of the biggest problems in our hospitals.

This brings to mind all the terribly lazy nurses I’ve met during my nursing days. One RN in particular took slacking to a whole new level. She had this strange idea that sleeping on duty was her right.

We would be on nightshift and she would take a mattress from one of the unoccupied hospital beds lay it down in the break room, dress it with sheets and blankets, and on top of it, she’d change into a nightdress, turn off the lights, disconnect the phone and sleep solidly through the night! She was my senior and I was reluctant about reporting her. It seemed like an accepted habit in the ward, the other nurses didn’t mind because they also slept at night. Still, it was cowardly of me not to stand against it, but many good nurses have blown the whistle on the slackers only to find that the managers are lax in taking action…then you’re labelled a snitch and everybody hates you. To make up for my cowardice, I’d take it upon myself to keep a close eye on the patients and I’d wake the senior RN whenever I was concerned about a patient. She would wave off my concerns saying that I was overreacting and disturbing her. I was not allowed to give schedule drugs to patients without her supervision, so I would give the patients paracetamol and placebos to soothe their pain and get them through the night. It was only when the patient was in imminent danger that I would insist she get up off her lazy butt to help. Even in those cases, she’d do the bare minimum, showing her disdain as the patients “inconvenienced” her. She’d often yell at them in zulu and tell them to “stop being stupid and just sleep”, then she’d snuggle up to her pillow again.

To make matters worse, whenever I did sit down for a coffee break in one of the offices, she’d phone me from the break room to tell me that someone was shouting for a nurse. “I am in my nighties, so please tend to that stupid patient.” she would say. Infuriated, I would oblige (yes, I’m a submissive idiot). In the morning she would get up lazily, messy hair, sleep wrinkles and morning breathe, and she’d sit and write the morning reports and leave me to do the bed baths, observations, and tidying of the ward by myself. I was always exhausted at the end of my shift and often still finishing up my tasks when the day staff arrived. It’s crazily time-consuming and tiring bathing bedridden adults! Keep in mind that these patients were ill and unable to move, plus they’d all have soiled diapers in the morning – there’s nothing sexy about nursing…oh no sir, nothing at all.

The most infuriating part of it all was that she’d put on a show for the day staff, telling them that she had a rough night and she actually looked exhausted, only because she was still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. It was disgusting to know that she’d go home to a sympathetic family after a “hard nights work”, come back to work at night, eat, sleep, piggyback on others to get her pay check and think nothing of it. The scary thing is that this is not an isolated incident; there are slacker nurses all over the place, creatively putting together their own makeshift beds. Some of them line 3 chairs up together, soften it up with pillows and cover themselves with hospital blankets, others use mattresses and some just occupy empty beds. There are some wards staffed only with slackers, with no one patrolling the ward at night like I did. There are of course good nurses that keep the hospital afloat but you can only pull the weight of the lazy nurses for so long before you’re burnt out.  If it were a disease, I’m sure it’d be the deadliest disease within the walls of any hospital, there is nothing worse than a sleeping nurse.