By Christopher Veal MACN
As nurses, we often have experiences which, despite the demanding nature of our work, that reaffirm our faith in our capabilities and our profession, reminding us why we chose this line of work.
As a Registered Nurse newly staffed at the Royal Hobart Hospital in Tasmania, I was expected to work wherever I was placed, typically turning up for work 15 minutes before the shift started and being allocated a ward/department for the day. One day, I was being allocated to the catheterization laboratory, and my job for the entire day was to wear a lead apron and hold a heavy lead pack as the radiologist conducted did 10 angiogram procedures.
An angiogram involves the radiologist injecting a dye up patients‘ right femoral artery into the heart and surrounding vessels. In the following step, an X–ray is taken to check the patency of all three arteries, to determine blockages, occlusions, deformities in any of the arteries. The lead pack had to be held over the incision of the femoral artery for 30 minutes after the catheter was removed to stop any possible bleeding. It was brutally exhausting and particularly mundane. After all, not all of nursing is fun and life-affirming.
My sixth patient, an older lady, appeared extremely nervous. As the procedure started, a problem occurred with the X–ray machine. The dye had been injected into the lady and then quickly removed. I was instructed to keep the heavy pack on the patient‘s artery and talk to her until the machine could be rectified.
My previous patients would often fall asleep while I held the pack in place – but not this one. I now had to perform one of the most basic nursing skills – talk to and reassure the patient. I decided to tell a story about a crocodile I encountered travelling in 1995 on one of the tributaries of the Amazon River. We were loaded into a Land Rover with and driven six hours to an unknown destination on our way to the tributary, with three guides in tow, and the only one that spoke English used to be a Venezuelan Army Major, familiar with the wild jungle of the Amazon Basin and its peculiarities.
On our first night, we were supposed to hunt piranha but between the whole group, all we could manage was one piranha. At this point, Miguel (the Major) stated that he would go and get us some crocodile to eat. If we had been stranded, I am sure our primitive hunting skills would have rendered us dead within the week. As I was telling this story, I felt the lady begin to relax by laying back into the pillows and letting her arms rest by her sides.
After what seemed like an eternity, Miguel returned with a crocodile in the boat. Miguel, clearly proud of himself, stood up the front with a five–foot crocodile, its snout wrapped in very thick rope. We cooked the crocodile tail and had a lovely meal on the banks of the river. The next day, we had an opportunity to attend a local Venezuelan dance where we, the ‘travellers from Australia’, received thunderous applause.
Just as I was finishing my story, the problem with the machine was rectified. I said goodbye to the lady and wished her well.
Months later, I received a card in the mail addressed to me, which was surprising because I was living in a temporary accommodation and no one knew my address. The card was handwritten, but I didn’t recognise the handwriting. Only once I opened it did I realise it was from the same lady who I had treated. Along with the card was what appeared to be a twig.
In her card, she thanked me for calming her down with my story. Turns out she was a famous rose grower from Hobart and had sent me a cutting of one of her renowned rose bushes to show her appreciation. Touched by her gesture, I bought a book on how to tend to roses but lacking in the skill, I could not salvage the flower. Although it saddened me to be unable to treasure her gift, I will never forget the thought behind it.
The reason I tell this tale is about the role nurses play, day in and day out, in the lives of our patients. We meet so many people in through our work, our experiences with them are mostly fleeting. It‘s part of the job, and most nursing staff try not to get too attached to patients.
The rose failed to grow into a lovely bush, but like dealing with my patients, I know I did my best.