Nurses are hospitals' unsung heroes

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
When I woke up last Tuesday morning, I didn't expect to find myself in the hospital by the end of the day. I certainly didn't think I'd be losing an organ (my appendix) or enjoying a complimentary ride in an ambulance.

It was all very exciting, initially. But when I woke from surgery, with a funny tube in my nose and a strange pain in my stomach, I felt scared and bewildered. That is, until my lovely nurse swept in, gently reassuring me things would be OK.

My little sojourn in ward 4C of Dunedin Hospital last week was truly an eye-opening experience. For starters, I was overwhelmed by the love my friends and family showed me. My bedroom currently looks like a florist shop, and I'm working my way through the mountain of chocolate they pressed upon me.

I was also surprised by the relative quietness of the ward, and the fact I actually got quite a bit of sleep. But most of all, I was struck by the kindness and compassion of the nurses on duty.

Dunedin Hospital endures a lot of criticism, from complaints about the rather lacklustre food to problems with overcapacity. These problems do exist, but we shouldn't scapegoat the hardworking heroes who go above and beyond the call of duty - our nurses.

Every nurse I encountered in 4C quietly cared for me with compassion, kindness and professionalism. Indeed, nurses all over the world perform their duties without fanfare. They save lives, step forward during natural disasters and emergencies, heal the sick and ensure dignity for the dying.

Sadly, they also withstand a great deal of abuse from patients, while maintaining their professionalism. Hospital wards - especially emergency rooms, can be high-pressure situations. Patients, their family members and hospital staff can frequently be on edge, and tempers will flare.

A 2005 study found that 34% of hospital nurses reported a direct physical assault from a patient within the past year. On my last night in the ward, a rather disgruntled patient unleashed a veritable avalanche of vitriol and abuse upon one poor nurse, punching a hole in a cupboard in the process.

The nurse took it all in her stride, responding calmly and with dignity. I sat there in my bed, outraged. Had I not been connected to an IV, I might have punched the guy myself.

Nurses also work long and gruelling hours, often on a staggered schedule of several day shifts, then several night shifts, followed by a few days off. I know if I ever had to sacrifice my precious sleep to care for people, I'd probably be stressed and grumpy.

These nurses battle through a perpetual state of shifting time zones and sleep schedules. Moreover, they are often required to work holidays, such as Christmas and New Year's Eve. Disease, accidents and old age don't give two hoots about family obligations or holidays.

Nurses are also required to do a lot of difficult, dirty work, from administering enemas, to cleaning up puddles of vomit. All in a day's work. There's nothing pretty or glamorous about the countless tasks nurses perform, yet without fail, all the nurses I encountered last week were gentle, kind and uncomplaining.

We should never underestimate the role nurses play in the lives of their patients. After all my friends and family members went home for the night, the nurses would check on me regularly, smiling, chatting and bringing me cups of tea in the middle of the night. These nurses made the whole ordeal bearable.

So, I'd like to thank every single nurse who helped me last week in ward 4C. Thank you to the kind soul who gently removed my stomach tube and surreptitiously slipped me a few cherry sweeties with my evening pills. Thank you Yvonne, for telling me about your home in Scotland.

Thank you Odette, for making me smile even when I felt sick, tired and nauseous. Thank you to the lovely nurse who asked about every single one of my brothers and sisters. I enjoyed watching your face light up when you spoke about your daughter. Thank you all.

-Jean Balchin is an English student at the University of Otago.



What a vestigial thing is an appendix. Something we didn't evolve out of, over the vast aeons of Time. And it gets inflamed. If you're upcountry with peritonitis, that's it really. Still, mustn't grumble. Nurses are fun loving. They can, for example, raise the bed to place the patient upside down, vertically.



Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter