9 October 2015

Washing away the day

When I get home from work I take off my uniform and put it on a hot wash. Then I run the shower as hot as it will go and wash myself. Then I have a hot cup of tea with my husband, (pretend to) listen to how my own children were that day and tell him about my shift.

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.


  1. What an emotional read Amy and very enlightening. You are wonderful and it must be so hard to return to normal life after that.

  2. This is an amazing post Amy. I recognize some of those feelings from when I was a preschool teacher, but I imagine as a nurse you get it times ten. You're just brilliant and even though I don't know how you do it either, I'm so glad for all those babies and children that you do x

    1. Thanks so much Eline, for your comments and for sharing my post :) xxx

  3. This is a wonderful post. I wish you had been our nurse in the countless scary situations we have been in. I can imagine you are an amazing calming influence. Please keep nursing... we need you xxxxx

  4. I loved reading this, it's completely spot on, that is exactly what everyone asks you when you tell them what you do and I never know how to reply, yes there are horribly sad days sometimes but often equalled by the lovely days you make a child better/help a family so they can go home smiling! I guess that sometimes we just do our job and forget that there's not that many people who would, even my adult nurse friends ask me sometimes! I hope lots of people read this as you have explained so fantastically! Xxx

  5. I loved reading this, it's completely spot on, that is exactly what everyone asks you when you tell them what you do and I never know how to reply, yes there are horribly sad days sometimes but often equalled by the lovely days you make a child better/help a family so they can go home smiling! I guess that sometimes we just do our job and forget that there's not that many people who would, even my adult nurse friends ask me sometimes! I hope lots of people read this as you have explained so fantastically! Xxx

    1. Thanks Rachel, yes I think we do often forget that it's not 'normal' to do a job like ours! I've had lots of really nice feedback from writing this and I wish all nurses got the appreciation that people reading this have given me!

  6. Comments like 'great post' and 'such a moving read' get chucked about a lot in the blogging world, but this post is the genuine article. I sobbed. Amy you are amazing. x

    1. I really appreciate your lovely words and you sharing this. Thank you xxx

  7. Replies
    1. Thank you, I have decided to accept all praise for doing my job on behalf of ALL nurses because it feels super weird getting all these nice things said to me just because I wrote about having a shower after work :)

  8. I have cried reading this. I have been a mum in hospital too many times. I am mum who had a legal case conference yessterday and heard that my childs hips were not as good as I had belived. I am a bit broken but I am always grateful for the nurses and doctors that treat my daughter

    1. I'm sorry you're going through a difficult time, but glad that you and your daughter have had excellent care x

  9. It takes a very special person to do what you do. Don't you forget it x

  10. Beautiful. There needs to be more nurses like you xx

    1. Thank you. I think all nurses probably feel like I do, but maybe not all of them could write it down xxx

  11. What a mixture of emotions all crammed into one shift. To then come home to your own children after seeing such good & bad must be mentally draining. But for everyone heartbreaking case I hope the happy heartwarming case balances it out. We are so lucky to have folks like you that are there in the darkest hours - and ones that actually give a monkeys - you are bloody ace xxx

    1. Thanks for being so kind Beth, and for sharing the post. I do give a monkeys and it is mentally draining but I wouldn't give it up for the world x

  12. This is beautiful, Amy. I love how you have the balance of the things you (and all patient-facing staff) struggle against, with the things that make your job special. Lovely post. Please do get involved with #MatExp, we need you! xxx

    1. Thanks Leigh, I would love to be involved xxx

  13. What a gorgeous post. I'm really very emotional now! You're amazing x

  14. What an emotional post. Is there anything that can be done for the abused children beyond the care provided in hospital? Do social services get called in automatically?

    1. Thank you, and yes, hospitals work very closely with all other agencies to try to keep children safe.

  15. What an honest and beautiful post, Amy. For all Jeremy Hunt's attempts to demonise the NHS, it's reassuring - and important - to be reminded that there are people such as you who make daily sacrifices in difficult circumstances to make patients' experiences (and those of their families) that little bit better. I've been in and out of hospitals, GP surgeries etc enough during my lifetime to appreciate the efforts of those who work there.

  16. Such a beautiful post. Being a children's nurse must be an incredibly hard job to do at times but with some incredibly rewarding moments too. Having spent many weeks in hospital with my eldest daughter, I am very thankful for all the wonderful children's nurses out there - you are all amazing. Knowing that the nurses were doing everything they could to care for my child made it a lot easier to step out of the ward and get that much-needed result. Thank you for all you do for the children you care for and the families you help support.

  17. I've been lucky with my sons regarding hospitals x my 2nd son was juandiced after his birth and had to stay in for phototherapy and my 3rd son broke his leg just above the ankle when he was 4 which required operating on to realign it x both times the nurses were fantastic and your account has brought back those feelings of helplessness that i had and that those nurses relieved x thank you for everything that you and all other nurses do x