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The challenges of nursing

As you are all aware my first rotation has been in the Emergency Department (ED). Though I had already experienced what it was like to work in the ED during a four week placement as a student, I am still in a state of awe over the amazing amount of effort and knowledge that every single member of staff here at Frankston possess.

As emergency nurses and doctors, it can be easy to become desensitised to events and activities that everyday people may consider “scary” or impossible to deal with emotionally.

We see and deal with these events many times a day and occasionally we can forget that these scenes may be shocking or abnormal for family members. 

These thoughts first occurred to me when I was taking a set of observations on an elderly gentleman – a task that I routinely do more than 20 times per shift. Blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, pain level out of 10 and their temperature. I did it wrongly as I didn’t explain to the man what I was doing – I just assumed he’d had these procedures performed on him at some point in his life. I waved the temperature probe near his face instructing him to pop it under his tongue without the thought to inform him “this is just taking your temperature.”

Later the guilt struck me – though this task was regular and well known to me, this man was in an unfamiliar environment. A simple explanation and some reassurance may have made him feel a bit more comfortable during a stressful time for him. In such a short period of time, I realised I had become just a little bit desensitised and I think in this profession we all do.

As a graduate I am less desensitised than other staff that have been here for a long time, and many things do still make me nervous, shocked or upset. Some days I want to go home and cry and some days I feel on top of the world. It’s a difficult thing to admit and a harder thing to hide, some things just stay with you and you can’t help but think about them when you return home. When a patient gets some bad news or you treat a very sick patient who is the same age as your mum it can be difficult to control your emotions. I often find myself trying to hide them, not just from family but mainly other staff. This is because I don’t want them to think of me as weak or emotional, although I know in my mind they probably never would. After thinking a lot about this I decided to never try to hide my emotions and always debrief.

It was a few weeks into my graduate year when a particularly traumatic incident occurred in the ED. I had never experienced anything like it before – a department that was always so loud and busy, suddenly seemed quiet and empty. The staff room at lunch time was quiet and I constantly had goose bumps on my arms. A particular nurse was visibly crying and many other staff members were understandably shaken and upset. Those who weren’t involved were whispering, remaining respectful for those who were involved and trying to imagine how hard of a situation it must have been. One nurse said “the patient is the same age as my child” and I remember thinking how strong all these amazing people are and though a lot of us attempt to hide our emotions and feelings, we all have them. Then after a hard day’s work, we head home, we feed our families, our children or dogs, watch some TV and try to get to sleep. We then get up the next day and do it all again.

It is an absolutely amazing career and I don’t think I’ve ever felt such respect and awe towards a group of people. We may become a little desensitised as a protective mechanism for ourselves, however I think it’s a good thing to reflect on how we feel and speak to each other. I find after a long day, when I wonder how I’ll get up tomorrow and do it all over again, I speak to my fellow graduates in ED, go home snuggle my puppies and appreciate how lucky I am to help people in such a vulnerable state. I appreciate this because it makes me appreciate life and those moments even more.  

I hope you all had a lovely and safe Easter break, keeping away from any emergency departments and enjoyed eating far too much chocolate!

Until next time,