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Life as a student nurse was never meant to be easy, but does it really have to be this hard? This is the question I have been asking myself for just over a year now. I began my journey as a student nurse in March 2017. I arrived fully expecting three years of hard grafting, intellectual turmoil, and an abysmal social life. From the reviews of nursing students and registered nurses combined, this was only too fair to expect. However, recently I have began to really think about my career path and this question dawned on me: why does it have to be this hard?
Sleep Deprived and Covered in Urine, Blood, and Vomit
In any caring role, bodily fluids are just something that you have to deal with. They are a staple in the job, much like oil to a mechanic or flour and milk to a baker. Blood, vomit, urine, poo - if you can name it and it comes out of your body, then I can tell you that it’s been smeared across my ugly, oversized tunic at some stage. One situation that I found myself in, the first thing to come to mind when I think of an extraordinary moment involving bodily fluids, was whilst I was placed on a stroke and rehabilitation ward. I was on my fourth night shift in a row and it was Christmas week. I was eagerly awaiting my three days off over Christmas to go home and see my family and relax (although, with deadlines on January 5, there was no opportunity for that to happen). Exhausted from working nights, working on my end of year assignments and working the busy Christmas period in a restaurant, I was eagerly awaiting 7:30 AM to hit so I could get the hour-long bus home and crawl into my bed. My routine at this time involves waking up 3:30 PM and starting work in the restaurant for 4 PM. I would finish at 8 PM and hop on the bus to start my night shift at 9:15 PM. I would work through the night until 7:30 AM, when I would travel to the library to squeeze in a few hours of academic work before managing to grab a measly three or four hours sleep before repeating it all again. Without digressing too much, I was on the cusp of my three day Christmas break with 15 minutes to go when typical nursing disaster strikes. A patient awakes confused, not out of the ordinary in a stroke ward. The patient pulls out their IV line causing a tear, they also pull on their catheter spilling urine everywhere. From the shock of this they vomit into their biPAP machine (a machine that helps with sleep apnea), causing its tubes to fill with vomit. I burst into action trying to minimise the damage as much as possible. In the split second, I manage to control 99 percent of the situation except for one thing: I forgot to switch the biPAP machine off. This breathing machine shoots vomit out of its pipes all over me. I subsequently slip on the floor into the pools of urine and blood and land square on my back. All in the day of a student nurse.
And what about me?
Whilst this anecdote might seem traumatic to some, at the end of the day, it is a hazard of the job. Looking back on it, I find myself laughing because it is a comical situation. I acted appropriately despite the cartoon-like happenings and I carried out my duties and the patient was cared for efficiently, affectionately, and compassionately. But what about me? Whilst a selfish question to ask when your life is devoted to helping others, it seems valid. What about me? On a daily basis we are dealing with life-altering situations. We are dealing with illness, death, gruesome injuries, poor mental health, alcoholism, drug addiction—only to name a few. As students and as nurses, we deal with these things. We provide the best care we possibly can, and if we feel we can’t, we ask someone who can provide that care. As students, we carry these burdens and then we leave the hospital only to go to a ‘part-time job’ where you are working full-time hours to pay for the rent that you can’t afford. The wonderful NHS provides myself with a bursary that I have been thankful for, but it doesn’t touch the tip when it comes to my rent, bills, and travel expenses. I actually have to count myself lucky because most of my peers have children to care for and have had to remortgage their houses or take out private loans in order to fund their education.
It’s not all bad.
Though this might have been too many negative words presenting me as a bitter, hateful little student, I love my job. Life in a caring profession is incomparable to anything else. Spending every day working with people who need your help and being able to touch their lives in some way is the one of the best feelings in this world. Working in a profession that is so desperately depended on gives you that sense of purpose. The patients we care for day in and day out are the reason, and the only reason, that we come to work every single day. With this in mind, and my negative rants to the forefront of your mind, I implore you to think about this profession. Think about the route of becoming a nurse. The government in the UK at the moment is upside and has seemed to neglect some of its most important people. Consider your healthcare needs; consider your healthcare worker; consider your vote.