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Nurse Bel gives some pain killers

March 26, 2013

Bel knows the ladies are talking about her. She can hear them in the bed-bay – behind her and slightly to the right. They’re out of her sight-line as she sits at the Nurses’ Station writing the notes, but they’re still audible.

“What these nurses have got to understand” says one “is that when we say we want our analgesia, it’s because we’re in pain. Sometimes it’s as if they think we’re just saying it to…I don’t know, get attention or something.”

“Half-an-hour I had to wait this morning…” grumbles another.

“It was more like three-quarters!”

“…and I was in agony! I think she forgot about me. She did say sorry though.”

“Well it’s all very well saying sorry, but sometimes sorry’s not the point is it? It isn’t sorry you want – it’s your painkillers. When you ask for them”.

Sounds of communal assent reach Bel’s ears. She wriggles in her chair and feels acutely self-conscious. She is sorely tempted to get up from the desk and stride in there to give them her side of the story. Which is that she didn’t forget about the analgesia – far from it: she spent most of the disputed half-to-three-quarters-of-an-hour trying to convey it to the anxious hands of the patient who is now complaining about her. It was circumstances, hospital culture, other people’s expectations – the whole bloody system – that got in the way. Replaying this morning’s entirely unexceptional waking nightmare, she wonders what she could have done differently.

She actually goes to fetch the analgesia as soon as the patient asks her. At the Station, she picks up the prescription sheet but while she is studying it, a Health Care Assistant dangles the phone in front of her. “It’s ED. They want to hand over a patient”.

“Tell them I’m busy. I’ll ring them back in five”.

“I already told him that, but he said he’s got to hand over now because the patient’s going to breach”.

Bel sighs and takes the receiver. It’s the notorious Don’t-Argue-With-Me-Sunshine Charge Nurse. As usual, he’s in no mood to be fobbed off, but remembering that she is –  at least in theory – in the middle of dispensing painkillers, Bel feels she has no choice but to attempt it anyway.

“Can I ring you back? I’ve got a lady who’s literally rolling around the bed” – she isn’t, but sometimes you have to exaggerate a bit in order to make any impression at all on people who work in a speciality that reputedly inures them to all but the most harrowing of dramas – “and I’ve got to give her some analgesia”.

“My patient is about to breach. We’re transferring him up to you now. I can hand him over in one minute – sixty seconds – if you stop arguing with me and get on with it”.

Bel wonders briefly if Don’t-Argue-With-Me-Sunshine speaks to male nurses like this, or if it’s just women. The familiar feeling of disappointment with herself for always failing to put up enough of a fight nags away at her as she takes handover. As soon as she puts the phone down, it rings again. This time it’s a social worker wanting an update on an elderly patient awaiting discharge. “Can I phone you back?” asks Bel. “Only I’m really busy at the moment”.

“No, I have to do this now because I’m due in a meeting and I’m already late”.

“This afternoon then?”

“No, I’m going to another hospital this afternoon and then I’m on holiday for two weeks”.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake” thinks Bel, knowing nevertheless that she has no choice but to attend to whatever the social worker wants for the sake of a dear old lady who asks her almost every single hour when she will be going home. She irritably reaches over to the trolley to fish out the relevant paperwork. As she does so, a registrar from another speciality drifts in to review a patient who’s been referred to him. Only he can’t find the notes. Can Staff Nurse please look for them?

“Well you’ve got two eyes the same as I have” thinks Bel.”What’s stopping you from looking for them?” She raises her hands in a gesture of impotence. “Sorry” she says out loud. “I’m on the phone”.

The doctor shakes his head in disgust, checks his watch and continues to stand four square in front of her, reminding her through his stubborn presence that her unhelpful attitude is keeping him from urgent duties.

“Hold on a minute” says Bel into the phone. Turning the receiver against her shoulder, she leans across the Station to the doctor and hisses “Try the ward clerk. I think she might have them”. In reality Bel has no idea whether the ward clerk has them or not, but sending him off in her direction buys a bit of time and turns him and his non-appearing notes into someone else’s problem.

Finally free of phone calls, helpless doctors and stroppy so-called colleagues, Bel turns back to the drugs trolley, only to find her way blocked by the anxious face of a first-year nursing student: a patient has fallen over in the toilet. Her head is bleeding. Can Bel please come and help? By now feeling completely desperate, Bel looks around for any other possible source of assistance. The HCA has slunk off to her tea-break. Nosing through the doors with a tray of IV drugs that she has spent the last fifteen minutes preparing in the Clinical Room, is the Second Staff Nurse. The drugs she is carrying should have been given two hours ago, but the intended recipient’s cannula fell out and because her veins are so poor, it’s taken until now to get it re-sited. Bel notices that instead of advancing further into the ward, the other nurse is now standing back and holdin gopen the door. A pair of feet appear, kicking angrily at the air above the bed on which they are being wheeled along. From beyond the door comes frightened shouting, growing ever louder: “Get me out! Get me out! Muriel! I can’t see you! Come and get me out of here will you!”

Bel feels her heart sink within her.“Oh Christ! No! Please…No! I can’t take any more of it!” It’s the patient from ED. He’s arrived.


From → Nurse Bel

  1. Gay Lee permalink

    So true – but no one understands unless they are a nurse, that it can be this bad. A beautifully written story. Thank you.

  2. Thanks. This is not untypical, as I’m sure you know.

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