These hands

The other night I was propped up in bed, playing one last game of Mahjong before turning off the lights, when my eye was caught by the one redeeming feature of my whole being … my left index fingernail. Truly, I should insure that little beauty! But then, in that weird way our brains have of darting to another subject entirely, I was taken back to the mid-1950s, without benefit of a time machine.

I was reminded of an experience during my period of training to be a nurse and how we were often thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool without benefit of the lessons which would enable us to swim, or a life vest in the form of a more qualified person to supervise and help us.

The scene was the public medical ward, and one of my patients had a tracheostomy. For those of you who may not know, that is where they’ve had a hole cut into their trachea (the tube in their throat that carries air into and out of the lungs), with a tube inserted into that hole, as a temporary passage for air flow. I can’t recall why the patient had a tracheostomy, but he couldn’t breathe normally through his nose (or mouth). 

metal_tube

The pieces looked a lot like the image above. The care of a patient with this in place included keeping the tube free of mucus, hence, a lot of suctioning took place. This carried the risk of introducing infection into the lower respiratory tract, and that alone was a worrying thought to a student in her first year. But what my brain had dredged up for my pre-sleep entertainment was the absolute terror of having to change that tube. 

I will go into some detail, to share the experience with you! The new, sterile tube was all ready at the bedside, with tapes in the slots on either side of the tube, their purpose was to hold the tube in place. Then, the area surrounding the hole in the patient’s neck was cleansed, and the old tapes cut. With freshly washed hands, the old tube was removed and  the new one inserted. Sounds easy, eh? I can still recall how my hands shook as I undertook this procedure. What if the trachea collapsed when I took the tube out? What if I couldn’t get the new one in? What if I somehow damaged the trachea? What if I fainted! It seems that both the patient and I survived, but I wonder if it was as traumatic for that patient as it was for me. 

And here I am, 2 and 1/2 years later, ready to unleash my nursing skills onto an unknowing populace!

grad

People sometimes criticise the University based courses for nurses, but the old method wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. I’m sure many of my classmates would have gone through one or more experiences that left them shaking. We did learn to become quite self-sufficient, anyhow!

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46 Comments

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46 responses to “These hands

  1. Since I’ve worked on + off for about 30 yrs in an ICU setting, I can definitely relate to this post!

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  2. Love that story Yvonne and also am a great believer of hands on training. We may argue the merits over coffee one day 😉

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  3. Awww ! Awesome post ! 🙂 ❤

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  4. Nurses and doctors have my undying admiration for their courage. This reminded me very acutely of the poor young doctor trying to stitch up my episiotomy after the birth of my daughter. Her hands were shaking, I kept having cramp and the nurse assisting was a battle-axe and kept ticking her off. I gave birth at 10.40 pm and got back to the ward between 2 and 3 am!

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  5. Maggie Morris

    Dear Yvonne…. how well I remember that lovely photo. Your story brings back so many memories. And for the friends who have posted…. this lovely lady was a brilliant student and an exceptional nurse.
    I still have many photos of the lighter side of life in a nurses residence…. many fun times even with all the harrowing experiences..
    Cheers old friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Maggie. You, Laverne and Ruth supported me through many a drama. How I dreaded the room inspections, I was always too slack to tidy and get a good report. You and Laverne, on the other hand, got gold stars every darn time. I think Ruth tended to lean toward my bad example. 🙂 Thank you for being a good friend for all of these years. ❤

      PS I think the old medical ward was St Mary’s, and then it became 4A when the new wing was built. I have bad memories of both those wards!

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  6. OHMYGOSH! thank you for sharing this with us!
    I am SO grateful for nurses! I think their job is harder than the doctors!
    Also, they have to deal with the patients AND the doctors! 🙂
    Thank you, Yvonne, for being a life-saver, a care-giver, a healer, a comforter, a nurse!
    The kind eyes, sweet smile, tender touch, and concerned words of a nurse are so valuable to that person lying in the bed.
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

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  7. Wow! What an experience that was for you (and the patient), but obviously you were successful, and thank goodness for both of you.

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    • A first year student nurse should never have been put into such a situation, but it happened a lot. We were part of the work force, no doubt about that. The only RNs were those in charge of the wards, and the ones who taught in the classrooms.

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  8. The very thought of doing something like that makes my hands shake with fear! I always loved the thought of being a nurse, caring for people in their moment of need, helping them on the road to recovery….but I knew I would never be brave enough! The last time I was in the hospital, thankfully for only two nights, there was no such nurse around as Nurse Yvonne! Your patients were fortunate to have you, I can only imagine how terrific you were. xx

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  9. My sister is a nurse and worked in a battle zone so I’m used to tales of blood and guts, but I can still sympathize with you. I too would have been scared out of my wits. I hate having responsibility for someone else’s well-being. You’ve done well though, so good luck now and in the future.

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  10. So good to read this about your history, Yvonne

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  11. And this is the reason I’m a teacher not a nurse! I just don’t cope with body parts, blood and other gunky gory things. I don’t even like it when my young students want to show their latest loose tooth. Gross. I am full of admiration for those who work so hard and diligently to care for those who need it and several of my family-in-law belong to the profession so I know how hard they work. I’m sure you were a wonderful nurse, Yvonne.

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  12. Well Yvonne. We’ll never know how any lives you helped to save, or how many patients were simply grateful to see your smiling face. You can be sure you contributed, more than you’ll ever know to the development of the medical profession. My kids work hard in this profession and it’s not easy, but but it’s a good thing to be involved it. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. When I was younger any girl who had a reasonable passing mark at year twelve, or in some places yr 11, had very few career choices. She could marry a farmer or become a teacher or a nurse. I wonder how many really wanted to become a nurse, although every nurse I ever came in contact with seemed to me to be super efficient and caring.

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    • There were all sorts of young women in my group, and the ones before and after ours. It remained a female dominated career for about another decade. The first fellows who came into nursing faced so many prejudices.

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  14. I had trouble knowing which was the true rose…

    I was in the old-fashion camp of pro-hospital trained nurses versus the polytech-trained. However, you’ve made me think about it further… My father always said you can tell the hospital-trained nurses because they fluff your pillow when they pass!

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  15. I still have a copy of Doreen Swinburne’s Jean, SRN (a young nurse faces the finals) which as a child gave me such a rosy picture of the comprehensive training in English hospitals (including having a turn at the cooking if memory serves) that I can never get my head around training nurses at Uni. What happens if after four years they get into a hospital ward and discover they don’t like sick people? 🙂

    I did have one poor young hospital nurse who nicked my vein when drawing blood – and I have HUUUGE veins, even at sixteen when this happened. It was a while before we both realised the blood was spreading up and and down my arm under the skin instead of going into the vial. I feel sorry for her now, but at the time I was shocked (and it hurt – ow).

    What a gorgeous photo and a stunning smile.

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    • I do feel sorry for the new Uni graduates, as they are thrust into the real world. My recent experiences as a patient have shown a lot of them to be very intelligent and not afraid to use their initiative.

      But, the old way often lacked the background theory to explain what in heck you were doing, and why. If you had some cluey seniors around, they filled the gaps a bit.

      Thank you for your comment about the photo. It might even be me, gabby one! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  16. You could have swapped stories with my mother. She would have been about 15 years ahead of you. And she served in the Army Nurse Corps in the Philippines in WWII,,,probably a lot of flying by the seat of your pants there although I have a photo album of hers from that time and it does look like a lot of scenes from “South Pacific”. If I remember there’s one picture that looks like they could have been singing “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair”. I’m sure there are many patients who were eternally grateful for women like you and my mother.

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  17. Caroline

    Yvonne, you look just the same!! What an interesting story.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. There’s something to be said for learning by the ‘sink or swim’ method, but it can come with high stress for learners, particularly if they have to deal with one challenge after another.

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