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).
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!
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!