A breath of minty-fresh air, fragrant vanilla filled up the nostrils even before her arrival. Suddenly, the humdrum was turning into excited chatter. A few weary heads strained their necks to glance at the door. They wanted to be the first ones to smile and welcome her. Yes, they can hear the footsteps approaching, fluttering of her skirt, or is it papers?
“Ah! Here she comes. Let’s enjoy while it lasts,” chuckled Mrs Jones.
“Good morning, Ma’am. How are you? Here’s a flower for you,” Nancy greeted in a sing-song voice.
Mrs Jones answered from her bed through her oxygen mask, “Oh! How sweet. I’m much better. Could you please warm up my porridge?”
Nancy opened the curtains for sunlight to spread its cheerful warmth, made the bed, chatted a while and comforted Jones.
Mrs Jones loved music. Nancy downloaded the latest playlist on Jones’ phone. Both hummed, swaying to the music.
Nancy, come here. Give medicines to bed no.12. Nancy, run to the lab and fetch the reports. Help no. 5 take a walk. Note this, bring that, hold it tight, be careful. Nancy’s name echoed in the geriatric ward everywhere, all day.
“Hi! Mr Arthur, did you sleep well last night?
Don’t worry, your reports are all good.
Yeah! That’s the smile I want, Mrs Henry.
Wait ma’am, let’s dress gorgeous, your family is coming soon.
Yes, I’ll give you something to relieve the pain.”
“She’s sweet. Usher in such positive vibes. She smuggled a piece of chocolate inside, just to fulfil my birthday wish,” remarked a patient.
Mrs Jones, “Yeah! Wait for a few days.”
“Nancy, Rush to bed 6, check sugar. She went into a diabetic coma yesterday night. Don’t know who sneaked in chocolates?
Nancy, hurry up, bed 9 needs sponging. Nancy, bed 11 is calling, Nancy…”
“No painkillers to the patient without the doctor’s prescription,” the supervisor instructed.
“Why Mr Arthur? How many times have I taught you to play this game?”
“No, I can’t give you a sleeping pill. You have a weak heart.”
“No, ma’am, No one called from your home.”
“Mrs Jones, why didn’t you have porridge when it was served warm a while ago?
“Nancy, is everything alright?” asked Jones.
Nancy’s heavy steps dodge each door unless the alarms beep or the call bells become too persistent.
Nancy breaks down, ‘Oh, God! This is making me sick. I wanted to make a difference, bring cheerful smiles unlike others who treat patients as bed numbers but all I hear is groans and complaints.’
‘Am I giving false hopes? Perhaps, making them too dependent, wishing for more…’
‘I need to get strict, perhaps, just do my job.’
“Hello, everyone! I’m Daisy. Your new attendant.
“Mrs Jones, let me get you a fresh hot bowl of porridge. No need to bother with that one.
Hey! Let’s open the windows and let in the fresh air. Take a deep breath, kiss the Sun and sing.”
And the ward sings with the Newbie.
My story is based on a personal experience of my father who stayed for almost a month in a cardiac care ward. He would tell me stories about everyday life. He had observed the behavioural changes amongst the old and new staff. He understood the staff’s limitations in getting too emotionally involved with the patients. The staff is generally compassionate but the sufferings take a toll on their mental health too. The new ones are usually cheerful and talk for long, sometimes, go out of the way, breaking a few rules to keep you happy. Gradually, they learn to be indifferent because it hampers with their jobs and sometimes, the well-being of the patient. The two episodes of giving chocolate and a sleeping pill had put the lives of two patients in danger. The one who was given a sleeping pill in empathy died in his sleep. The newbie had regretted it and cried a lot.
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