Confessions of a nurse…

To the first male patient I ever shaved in the nursing home, I apologise for making your face resemble that of Norm Gunsten, but you have to understand, that shaving an actual face, with all those natural contours of a long life lived, is nothing like shaving a party balloon.


I would like to sincerely thank “Mrs Smith” a sweet resident with dementia, for escaping almost every Saturday, out the front door of the nursing home. I gained a lot of skills in dealing with your challenging behaviour. You were crafty, and not in the paper and glue sense. You would exchange pleasantries with the visitors, who would then happily enter the security code for you… Gee you were fast.

The visitors never understood why I bolted out the door, until- they saw me trying to fast talk you back inside. I am sorry “Mrs Smith” that I lied to you, but there was some truth in what I said, there was always a cup of tea and some friendly faces waiting for you.

To the dear man from the nursing home, I should have listened to you when you were telling me that, they were not yours. But you have to understand that your memory was sketchy, you were not always the most reliable source, on recent events. It wasn’t until you smiled at me, that I realised, you were right. They were not your dentures. We both laughed, I maybe a little too much.

To the 56 year old male, laying on your back on that cold hard table, awaiting your autopsy. I am sorry, but sometimes the little voice in my head just escapes that filter. As the Doctor pulled back your scalp to access your brain I didn’t realise I was vocalising my thoughts …“Oh it’s just like in the ending of Scooby-Doo when Daphne, pulls the mask off the bad guy…” I was in shock.

I won’t forget your left hand as it fell out from under the crisp white laundered sheet. The hand is what touches a life and that of others. Looking at your simple gold wedding band, instantly humanised this whole clinical procedure. You had, had a brain haemorrhage, which must have been the reason you drowned.

To Mrs Jones, you told me with absolute conviction “I am going to die today”. I brushed you off saying. “Sure, one day, we all will- but you are not going anywhere today”. Before the end of my shift I was laying your body out, you had the slightest smile on your lips, was that for me? Your last ever I told you so?

I regret to this day, that I came back for you in a wheelchair for your second scan. You said that you could walk- but just like that I made you be a patient, I disempowered you. I wish I had of ignored protocol, and just walked with you back to the X-ray department instead of pushing you in that wheel chair.

To the 19 year old girl, a frequent flyer to our emergency department, overflowing with attitude. Attitude with a capital A. I am sorry that I was unprofessional towards you. I was new to Emergency nursing I was fatigued by your lack of compliance, and then your blaming us for not helping you get better. Yes, I should not have been sarcastic towards you. My cynicism was percolating my being. I knew that I was losing the fight. You were yet another case in point.

To that same girl, who in an overcrowded café stood at the front counter yelling at me encircled in safety with her posse. Insulting me in uncreative detail. I thank you. It is not every day that you are made to make a formal statement to police about harassment.

Although a year on, I would be giving a detailed statement in that same police station about a baby who was in my care. He was injured at the hands of his own flesh and blood. I would later swear to tell the whole truth while you blank-eyed stared me. You big man. The kid wasn’t even one. I am not sorry as I told the extent of the injuries of my patient, your son to the court.

To the 80ish year old man who was dying. I still to this day don’t know if I did the right thing. You were desperate for your brother, I tried ringing him but his phone was disconnected. I couldn’t contact him, I tried. You were so agitated, unsettled, despite the drugs. I held your hand, I lied to you so very gently “He is on his way” within an hour you had passed away peacefully.

To all the patients to whom I have said things I wish I didn’t, like the prisoner who was handcuffed, escorted by two prisoner officers, and a very large German Shepard. I really wish when I had completed the dressing to your arm I didn’t say “All done, you are now free to go” FYI, looks don’t always kill. To the above knee amputee “Can you just hop out onto our bed please” Sorry I didn’t know. To the several visually impaired patients, whom I looked after at Moorfield’s eye hospital when I said “see you later” I just wasn’t thinking, sorry.

To the mother who I picked up off the hospital floor. You were not the first and you will not be the last. It is hard to watch your child have multiple stitches. But remember it could have been so much worse, no one died in the accident.

To the family that sat protectively by their mother, heavy with remorse. It was an accident, the liquid morphine doses can be complicated. Also don’t feel bad, I have been hurt far worse in my job by patients. Her punching out at me, was her body responding to the reversal medication. We didn’t know then but it would only give you all, a valuable 5 weeks to prepare your much loved mother for her next journey.

To the mental health patient who in yet another tedious same-old-same-old ward meeting managed to shake the ward up. That cleaner never saw it coming… you commandeered her vacuum cleaner and before you could say supercalafragalisticexpealdocious you had disassembled the parts and had started an impromptu corroboree. Your newly acquired didgeridoo in hand the other inpatients joined in with much enthusiasm. Now that is something that you do not see every day.

I have cared for many people in my 20 years of nursing. In those years many of you I have forgotten. For us nurses to survive we talk about you as right legs, left-sided strokes, atypical chest pains, diabetics, bilateral hips.

We don’t name you, for me it’s a mechanism to separate the very real you, from your condition or injury. It is my protective barrier. I hope if I have ever nursed you, I wasn’t ‘that nurse’. You know, the one you hoped you didn’t get.

If I ever nurse you in the future, please know that I care. I am creating for you a show of many diversions, self-depreciating stories, or musings of no consequence while I do my job. I want you to laugh, to feel the lightness. So often when we meet, I find that you are drowning in the weight of your own reality.

With sincere kindness, and empathy.


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