In 2001 I had decided that my true calling in life was to be a nurse, so I began a seconded degree in Mental Health nursing at Birmingham University. I have to say it was one of the most challenging decisions I have ever undertaken and no matter how many times I employed tricks to remember the order of things, you know `the hip bone`s connected to the thigh bone` etc. it remained very difficult for me to achieve the standards I knew must be met. So I didn`t enjoy it all that much, however I met some very nice students there and some pretty far out tutors as well. Some of the physiology lectures were so enthralling there would be standing room only, yet occasionally I would meet a student so lacking in social awareness or empathy of any kind, I used to think they would be hopeless next to an inanimate object never mind a human being. I used to wonder what brought them to nursing when it was so clear, they didn`t like people at all.
Every year all students have to work at a placement and there are a number of tests you must pass during a placement in order to continue the course. For me, one of these was learning CPR and the other was giving my first injection. The placement was at a large residential nursing home for older people and as I`ve always enjoyed the company of older people; I was looking forward to it. The manager was an affable Irish man with ruddy cheeks. I got on with him from the start and it was only when I was a few days into my stay there that I realised he had a problem with drink. He would slip up the road to the pub at every possible occasion to top up and was the subject of much, highly unprofessional gossip amongst the staff. In spite of being mildly pissed most of the time, he was an efficient man who ran a tight ship and the standards of care in the home were maintained at an extremely high level.
The residents liked him and so did I.
When it came for me to demonstrate CPR to him, he brought out the plastic torso of half a person affectionately known as Jane and laid her on the floor. Never mind Vinnie Jones telling us `you only kiss your wife` in those days it was de rigeur to place your mouth over the mouth of the person in trouble. A plastic shield was strategically put in place as protection in case anyone threw up. I was ready, my patient was ready, my merry manager observing me as I began the CPR. Unfortunately I must have blown a bit too enthusiastically into Jane as there was a sudden loud bang and both her lungs quickly deflated. `My God, you`ve blown her up,` my manager stated the obvious, looking at me incredulously through pink rimmed eyes. He was right and poor old Jane was a gonner! I think that must have been the prelude to the new ad`s telling us to press hard and fast to Staying Alive……
On another occasion I had to give my first injection. It being Mental Health nursing, many of the residents had long term mental health issues and were on all kinds of med`s some of which can only be administered into the buttock. It`s quite tricky injecting into the buttock. You have to divide it mentally into quarters and then make sure you miss a particular area where there are many nerves which can be damaged, irrevocably so. You also have to ensure you have the correct dosage of medication in the needle. Nurses have to learn drug conversions which I always found extremely difficult. I remember my then husband testing me and saying with a playful smile upon his face as I got it wrong for the umpteenth time, `Helen you`ve just converted enough lithium into our hypothetical needle to knock out most of Acocks Green…..` Oh how I laughed.
Anyway the old lady who was kind enough to be my guinea pig flinched, just a tiny bit as the needle went in and she of a thousand injections commented, very generously I thought, `not bad for a first attempt.
Sadly, the manager was sacked but not before he passed me with flying colours. I was sorry to see him go. Drink`s a bugger isn`t it. I only completed year one of my nursing degree as the following year I went to live in Darwin. Ever since that time I have been known as Helen, one third of a nurse.