These are the things I'm washing off my uniform:
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus
- Instant coffee stain from trying to drink a mug in 20 seconds without sitting down.
- Tears from a child getting a cannula.
- The smell of cat urine from IV ceftazidime that sprayed as I was preparing it.
- Biro marks from forgetting to click my pen shut before putting it back in my pocket.
- Sweat from struggling to feed and settle a screaming baby in a hot cubicle while wearing plastic apron and gloves.
- Vomit splatters that missed the apron.
- Toddler snot on my shoulder.
- Make up from hugging a crying Mum.
These are the sounds still ringing in my ears that I drown out with running water:
- The patient call bell
- The IV pump alarm.
- Babies crying.
- Toddlers screaming with fear.
- Tearful mothers.
- Sats monitor alarms.
- The phone.
- Hacking coughs.
- The door bell.
- The bleep.
- The crash bell.
These are the things I tell my husband over tea:
- Not enough staff again.
- The new junior doctor can't cannulate for toffee.
- Teenager got hit in head with golf ball and finished the game before calling ambulance.
- Patient pulled their own crash bell and we all sprinted into a laughing toddler's room.
- Got my lunch break at 4pm.
- Little girl missed her friend's party waiting for her medicines to come up from pharmacy.
- New cafe in the hospital has orange hot chocolate.
- Nice team on.
- So and so's pregnant.
- Cute baby having seizures had same PJs as our baby. I cuddled her a lot.
- Kid got a fishbone stuck in her throat.
- Parents of slightly underweight newborn were just like us with baby #1.
- Mum of asthmatic kid was rude and smelled of cigarettes.
- Really satisfying suctioning of bronchy baby's nose.
- Invented a new 'inhaler song'.
- Child had to have general anaesthetic from blackberry picking finger injury.
The after work shower washes away a lot of the day. The hot water makes me feel clean, stops me passing infections on to my own children, revives me and brings me part way back to myself. The chat with my husband lets it all out, reminds me of the good parts of the day and lets off steam about the bad parts.
But some days it's not enough.
There are some days when taking my uniform off, having a hot shower and a quick chat about what happened over a cup of tea with my husband isn't enough.
There are days where things I have seen, notes I have read and words I have heard can't be washed away. Where the usual procedures for switching off my 'nurse brain' and switching on my 'me brain' don't cut it.
These are the things I can't wash away:
- Feeling a baby's stomach and finding a hard, large lump.
- The look in a parent's eye as they hear the words they never imagined hearing.
- A conversation with a child who is being abused.
- A 14 year old girl's suicide note.
- The smell of a child so neglected their skin was stained with dirt.
- Reading a medical file which begins: 6 year old pedestrian vs car. Hit and run.
- Yet another baby with multiple non-accidental injuries.
Some days it's hard to go back to the preschool drop off chit-chat and threading pasta necklaces with those things whirling around my mind. Real life child abuse and childhood cancer aren't acceptable topics at toddler coffee mornings.
People's general reaction when they ask what I do is: "aw you're a children's nurse? I don't know how you do it". I never know what to say... but some days I don't know either.
I wrote this post after a series of hard shifts, but I've just realised it's not finished...
For every "thing I can't wash away" there are many more that I don't want to:
- The feeling of settling a baby to sleep and letting a mum get some rest.
- Preparing a child for surgery so well that they are smiling as they go off to sleep.
- The hug from a little boy relieved to be going home.
- When someone says "I'm so glad it's you today".
- Thank you cards from families which mention me by name.
- The time a girl with a brain injury first used a pen to write me a message.
- The drawing a boy did for me when I was a student nurse that I will never throw away.
- The boy who quacked like a duck and made everyone laugh.
- The family who ALL dressed as Super Heroes for a "leaving hospital" party.
- The way you can start a shift with strangers and end up feeling like best friends.
I could cry about all the sad things at work, but I could just as easily cry about all the wonderful things.
That's how I can do it.