I tried to become a nurse…. Twice!!!
I was 18 years old when I made my first attempt and the advertisement in the paper said ‘Mentally Handicapped Nurses’. It was perfectly acceptable terminology in those days. I applied and I was accepted and it meant moving to Dublin. How exciting! I was distracted by the city and the people and failed a first year exam which meant I had to drop out or repeat. Just so happens that was the year of the last nurses strike if my memory serves me correctly. I chose to repeat externally which meant I just did the exams. The Director of Nursing gave me a job as a Health Care Assistant and that was it…. I didn’t go back.
I enjoyed the money and I was in love and life was good. I was sad to have not got my qualification because I felt I was capable but I cruised along for a number of years. Myself and the boyfriend decided to part ways and as a therapeutic intervention I upped and headed off to Oz for a year. When I returned after my year out, an opportunity arose to revisit my training. It was scholarship to train to become what was now an Intellectual Disability Nurse. This meant you got to keep your full Health Care Assistant wage. Only 11 in the Dublin region would get it based on scores from an aptitude test that was hosted in Croke Park. I thought feck it I’m going for it….
And I got it!!!!
I completed 3 ½ years of training and had two babies in the middle of it. Then my relationship broke down and I was pregnant on my 3rd and the pressure was too much. I dropped out again! I actually had no physical way of getting to Dublin from Kilkenny. Devastated by my failure but I had other things to be worrying about at that stage of my life. The reality of being a single mother with no home, no car and no job took precedence.
More to the point because of my many years of attempts I have a little insight into what nurses have to endure on a daily basis.
Firstly nether of my two attempts to become a nurse were driven by money.
Nobody goes into nursing for the wage.
I wanted to help people. I wanted to care for people and I believed I could make a difference to the lives of the people under my watch. In fact I was better paid as a Health Care Assistant then the newly qualified nurses at the time. Read that sentence again. I was on a higher rate of pay that the nurses. How is that even possible?
One of my placements was in Beaumont Hospital. 9 days I spent there and it will never leave me. The pressure those nurses were under. I couldn’t see how the hospital would function without the students. There were 4th years that were technically not yet qualified running bays alone. A bay could contain 12 people all with complex needs. The nurses were expected to care for patients at unsafe ratios plus teach and liaise with other members of the team and maintain records and make appointments and comfort families and, and, and, and, and….. the list goes on. I was overwhelmed.
I would vomit before I went in and I would cry coming home.
Those nurses did that every day of their working lives.
In my own discipline I saw staff members being put in real physical danger because of lack of staffing. Some of the people living where I worked would have outbursts and try to hurt themselves, other residents or even the staff themselves.
The risk of being physically assaulted was real and constant.
I saw the service users not getting to go and fulfill their programmes because there’d be no one to bring them. Nurses being told by management to clean and reuse single use items because it would cost too much otherwise. No resources, no staff, no progress and to top it all off not even a decent wage at the end of it all.
Nurses and midwives deserve better. A nurse is there when you begin your life and a nurse is there at the end. A nurse is a counselor, an advocate, an educator, a manager, a leader and a friend. Every day they deal with short falls in the system. Imagine going into work every day and not being provided with the tools that you need to complete your job. How long would you last? The strike today may be about money on paper but it’s so much more than that. These people deserve better. The last thing nurses want to do is strike. I may not be one of them to my eternal regret but I stand with them.