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Taking off the nursing glasses

During a midwifery professional development course, registered nurse Michelle Vujicic was reminded that patients are also real people.

It was the first day of practicum for my maternal nursing course for professional development and as I was buddied up to my nurse midwife after morning handover, I felt a sense of excitement and anticipation as I heard the words “the patient we have is close to delivery”.

It was the first time I would see a live birth in many years, and remembering the last time I experienced watching a birth was very vague. After reading all the information on textbooks and seeing pictures, of positions, dilations and foetal assessments, I was finally about to put all the pieces together and concrete my theoretical knowledge of the physiology of birth.

When I went into the room, I grabbed a pair of gloves, shut the door and looked to my right, where there was an exhausted New Zealand lady, with her back to me, on her knees facing the wall on the bed. I could already see blood and fluid dripping from her perineum; the midwife had her hand on her lower back and another with a cloth over her buttocks.

Now, for someone who has not yet had any children, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was initially shocked by what I was seeing first thing in the morning, especially with the amount of bodily fluids that were present in and around the bed.

Needless to say there were many days flourishing with birthing and maternity nursing experiences such as these, some more graphic than others, some more joyful and pleasant, others rather challenging, especially watching premature infants cling onto dear life in the special care nursery.

It wasn’t however, until my last day of practicum, when I was in antenatal clinic, situated outside the hospital setting, that something finally dawned on me. In this clinic, the midwives were explaining to me that every week, the community centre was a place that wasn’t just “an appointment and check up” like a doctor’s office. It was a new initiative, which was intended for women to sit together, have their blood pressures taken, watch some educational DVD’s and enjoy a cup of tea while they waited for their pregnancy assessment.

Appointments were open and patients were given a time frame to come in and be assessed before the morning session was over. These women were very supported and knew the midwives by name, and brought their other children along to the clinic as they went about their busy schedules.

I felt by being amongst the women in the community and not in the hospital setting, allowed me to connect with them and be their friend, rather than just their “professional” who will simply assess them.

I was able to associate the fact that soon, these women who were pregnant will eventually end up as those “patients” in the hospital giving birth where I was on day one in birth suites.

My nursing glasses finally came off that day, as I truly saw who these women were. They had a real life with a family to raise, mouths to feed, and had the same fears, doubts and challenges as we all do. I realised I was so used to dealing with patients day in and day out in emergency; “fixing” them up and moving on, as if they were cars.

No matter what type of nursing we practice, I think it’s so important to remember that as nurses, we can become so engrossed in our professional routine of meeting and greeting our nursing friends, having that medical and university mindset of fixing patients that we forget that the pregnant lady in labour, or that man who complains about his sore knee, or that old woman with pressure ulcers are the same as you and I.

We need to remember to connect the dots and realise that we are not just “working” we are actually in the path of someone’s life, in their most vulnerable state. One example of this occurring was when a 22-year old African woman was in the process of giving birth. During this time, I was next to her throughout the whole process holding her hand and telling her to push when necessary. She had tense eye contact with me and it felt like she was relying on me in this moment to be her rock.

Once the ordeal was over and her baby was wrapped, she turned to me and in her thick African accent and told me to come closer to her. So I knelt down towards her and she kissed me on the cheek and said “God bless you” and “Thank you so much for your help”. It was then I realised the importance of letting your own guard down and humbling yourself to their position and becoming a part of their lives in the moments they need you. That to me is truly the beauty of this profession.

So the next time a patient comes in to your workplace, just stop to remember that you are helping someone’s son, daughter, mother, father or brother, and some of these people are probably going through a tougher time than you think and are relying on someone to be, not just their healthcare professional, but their support and friend. Our attitude and perception towards our profession and patients, really does make all the difference.

Michelle Vujicic is a registered nurse.

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