Everything you ever wanted to know about becoming a nurse but were too afraid to ask.

TL:DR, Becoming a nurse is the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it was worth it.

A few weeks back I became a nurse.

I know.

Terrifying.

Some nurses might read this unabashed account of my experience and think I am a whiny baby. Maybe their training was sunshine and rainbows which they look back on fondly. Much like a mother several years post birth. But we all know. Giving birth is horrendous.

If you’re reading this before you become a nurse maybe your training will really be sunshine and rainbows. Anything is possible.

A year prior to completing the degree I began an access to nursing diploma, it was part time and helped to prepare me for the academic demands of the degree. Some of it was absolute rubbish but overall it was useful, if only because it pretty much guaranteed I’d get a place on a course. Despite our nursing shortage, it is still competitive to gain a nursing degree place. I worked part time during this year and couldn’t really have managed without savings. If you are an aspiring mature student nurse I recommend an access course and becoming an HCA to supplement your income.

Then began the hardest three years of my life. I’m not even exaggerating. I’ve run a marathon, gotten divorced and moved internationally more than once. This was harder than all these individual hurdles combined.

If you fancy a blow by blow account of a day in the life of a ward nurse you can read this other thing I wrote a few years ago here:

http://sabotagetimes.com/life/diary-of-a-despairing-nurse

But let’s carry on.

First year doesn’t matter too much in terms of the grade you will come out with at the end of the degree but that didn’t stop me from putting huge amounts of pressure on myself to do well. And the placements. Placements in first year are the hardest. Every member of staff you meet will have a different expectation in regard to how competent you should be. Some nurses gave me patients to look after unsupervised, other supervised everything I did, quizzing me throughout. First year is the year you are most likely to be shouted at by your mentor in front of the entire ward. I’d like to say first year is the year you will cry most in storage cupboards but realistically that will happen throughout the three years and possibly for the rest of your life as a nurse.

Everyone will warn you that during the degree you may injure yourself performing some kind of manual handling. I did. I slipped a disc during my second placement and could barely walk for two weeks. It healed but was terrifying. I got norovirus more than once, stress related eczema and began having ectopic heartbeats during the degree. I also gained nearly 4 stone. I had to buy more uniforms two sizes bigger and worried toward the end that they may not fit in my final weeks.

Second year was actually kind of ok until my boyfriend’s Mum suddenly got oesophageal cancer and died 6 weeks later. I do not in any way begrudge any of the support I needed to give to everyone in my family during that time but I did it as a nurse, less so a girlfriend. Even when something is affecting you very closely, you are the nurse in the family now, as soon as you begin your training, even if you don’t really know what you’re doing. People will rely on you to interpret medical stuff and support them as a nurse. It is very hard.

Later during second year I went to The Philippines for a nursing placement. This was also incredibly hard but also fairly thrilling. I sweated a lot. You can watch my vlogs of that trip here:

https://vimeo.com/user25847260/videos/page:3/sort:date

This trip was sort of a more concentrated version of what it was like to be a mature student amongst 20 year olds. I really struggled with this. I’ve always been a bit of an outsider but I really felt it during the degree whilst trying to befriend people ten years my junior. I lost touch with old friends too because I was too busy to spend time with them throughout the degree. It is also worth mentioning that the NHS isn’t always the liberal utopia I thought it was going to be. Nurses are still people and some of them are racist, sexist, homophobic or just plain rude. Let alone the ones that are burnt out. I found less kindred spirits than I expected to.

Now. Third year. Oh boy.

In Third year you are a nurse, you’re just not getting paid. Also, you must write a 9000 word literature review which counts for almost a quarter of your degree. I dedicated about 8 months of my life to writing a very passionate literature review entitled ‘How does legislation affect health promotion for female sex workers?’, (A: punitive legislation dramatically impacts both access to and implementation of health promotion strategies. Sex work needs to be decriminalised asap.)

I didn’t go out, I worked on all my days off, I redrafted and redrafted and I got a C. When I got the grade back I tried to read the feedback but I couldn’t stop crying so I gave the stupid thing to my Mum who has kept it for a long off point in the future where I may be able to cope with reading it.

So why did I stick it out?

Easy – nursing is wonderful. It is an utter privilege what people will trust you with. You can travel anywhere and be a nurse. There are as many career pathways as there are parts of of the body. Nursing is freedom from worry about job security. No matter what happens to the NHS, we will always need nurses.

Finally, a tip for anyone about to venture into this career. Pull the pin out on your fob watch between placements, it saves the battery.

Just no one in this car. 

Family is tricky.

Thinking about my family tends to reminds me of a line from As Good As it Gets.

“Some of us have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car.”

My sister walked down our driveway and out of my life for the first time when I was 6. Ten years my senior she was my idol and I was bereft at her departure. She had her reasons, none of them to do with me and as I say, family is tricky.

She had her first daughter four years later and returned to our lives having made a fragile short lived peace with my mother, disappearing again within a year or so.

I was at boarding school by then, making the new departure less noticeable and by the time she was pregnant with her second daughter she had returned, working in the family business, her presence sheer delight to me when I was home from school.

My sister was opinionated, argumentative and hilarious. Even now I expect if we were to speak she would have me doubled over in minutes. She smoked a lot and she drank a lot of Diet Coke and loved all the stuff my mother hated. Country music, Melrose place, Eddie Murphy. N.B. It was the nineties.

She would be candid with me in a way my mother never was, in hindsight I was too young to cope with her truths. When I was 10 I sat on the edge of the bathtub whilst she detailed every family scandal, embarrassment and wrong doing. From then on this is how I viewed us all.

When I was 15 she was gone again. A huge and now sixteen year rift with my mother had formed that could not be joined. I think my mother was so devastated she couldn’t even bring herself to tell me that she was gone again. I came home and there was no Diet Coke in the fridge and I knew.

Three more years passed until I tracked her down. This time we stayed in touch. She was my best friend. We were so angry together. We chain smoked watching Clueless and Grease and Reality Bites and Dirty Dancing over and over while her daughters were asleep.

When I was nearly 20 I left for England. We stayed in touch for a while but by the time I moved to America we hadn’t spoken in over a year. Then cancer came for my stepdad and the marriage I’d rushed into was collapsing and I needed her.

I returned to Australia and between time spent with my stepdad I managed to find her. She was a little different than I remembered. Still so angry. Not interested in the reconciliation with our family that I had hoped for. Memories of times she had been cruel and harmful when I was little began to resurface. My soon to be ex-husband was uncomfortable around her. Maybe I was too.

I went back to America. My stepdad died. My marriage ended. I left message after hysterical message for her but she never called back.  Eventually I gave up. But I miss her. I can’t forgive her but I miss her. Even now almost seven years later.

Family is tricky.

The parable of the hair wrap.

When I was eight years old, I desperately wanted a hair wrap from a kiosk at the mall. I pestered my mother over what was probably several weeks for this hair wrap. We lived in a coastal town in Australia. The beach aesthetic was the only aesthetic. This was very important. As was my school’s uniform code which did not permit hair wraps.

When my mother eventually yielded, I triumphantly paraded in front of my mirror, flicking my hair about to catch a glimpse of it, before starting to cry and asking my mother to cut it out four hours later because I was afraid of getting into trouble at school.

What a dork.

We need to talk about Herpes.

I’ve recently started working in sexual health services and am also a haver of sex, so there’s some personal feelings I have about this stuff as well as some sciencey facts that I need to lay on you, but first some observations I have made since working in sexual health.

1. Even in a sexual health clinic people are afraid to say the word ‘sex’. They often say ‘oh, you know” and look away and cough.

2. People on the whole have very little knowledge about how sexually transmitted infections are passed from one person to another. I saw a patient this week who had a series of insect bites on their forearm that thought they’d caught from a blow job.

3. Lots of people are not using condoms anywhere near as often as the health service would like them to.

These three things lead me to believe that people are going about having sex in a mostly terrified bewilderment and that makes me sad. Stigma is such a pain in the butt, much like gonorrhoea except much more prevalent. The difference is that unlike the new antibiotic resistant strains of gonorrhoea that they found in Australia recently, stigma can be cured at least in part, just by talking.

Here is the personal anecdote section of the blog piece:

When I was younger and eager to impress my sexual partners, I used to get Brazillian waxes. The thing about Brazillian waxes is they rip little holes in your skin in areas that are warm and often moist and are by all accounts considered perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. Some people are lucky and they don’t get spots and ingrown hairs and cysts after having a Brazillian waxes but I was not one of those people. Apparently my whole family is just ‘cysty’. Thanks, genetics.

Anyway, many years after I stopped pulling out all my public hair with hot wax, I still have occasional problems with spots and ingrown hairs and cysts and sometimes I get worried that maybe they’re not just spots or ingrown hairs or cysts and that in fact they are ‘The Herpes’. FYI, calling HSV ‘The Herpes” is really stigmatising and I’ve heard actual Doctors say it to patients and it needs to stop. Wording is important.

I went to get one such spot swabbed a few weeks ago, to check what was up and while I was waiting for my results to be texted to me, I had my first conversation with my mother, who is also a nurse, about STI’s. I am 30 years old. This is when she told me that she has had HSV since before I was born and I was reminded how messed up stigma is because a registered nurse was not able to have a conversation about STI’s with her daughter before she became sexually active but instead at the age of 30, when let’s be honest it is waaay too late.

Here is the science bit of the blog post:

HSV I gives you cold sores, HSV II gives Genital Herpes which is basically the same thing.

You can contract HSV and never get symptoms, or you can get symptoms years after first contracting it.

Between 50% and 70% of the population are carrying HSV, 80% of those people don’t know they have it.

The virus is passed easily through skin to skin contact, even when no HSV symptoms are present.

Condoms do not protect against HSV.

Sexual health clinics do not routinely test for HSV because it is so common, they merely treat symptoms.

In most people, after an initial outbreak the virus will lay dormant, they might never have another outbreak in their lives.

For unlucky people who continue to have outbreaks, the virus can be managed with medication.

The only way to avoid it entirely is to not have sex at all.

In the end the results of the swab were negative but given the sciencey facts above, it doesn’t mean I don’t have it.

Loads of us do. So let’s stop calling it ‘The Herpes’. Let’s stop making it the butt of jokes. Let’s talk about it.

 

 

 

 

 

Me, Usher and Chris Bray.

I went to boarding school from the age of 12 until 16. If you’re from the UK reading this then that probably sounds very posh. However, I’m from Australia where no one is really posh and the size of the country and location of schools sometimes means kids go to boarding school.

It was an all girls boarding school with a brother school across town. The two schools encountered one another at McDonalds on Tuesday afternoon in full school uniform or at quarterly school discos surrounded by manufactured smoke in the assembly hall.

In the evening before dinner in the boarding house we would wait for phone calls from the boys school. There was a line of 5 phones in the reception area, overlooked by boarding house staff. If you were upstairs watching TV, you would be called over the intercom, then bolt downstairs to take your call. 

In lots of cases, boys and girls would just want to talk to each other, sometimes without having met or heard of each other before, which is how I fell madly in love with Chris Bray.

The only problem was that Chris Bray had a girlfriend.

I mean in theory it was a problem, my thirteen year old self didn’t really feel it was an ethical issue and I began to pursue him with gusto. I arranged for someone to give him Usher’s ‘You Make Me Wanna’, the CD single, which I had bought for $2 and the mall. He called me up and told me that it had really. made. him. think.

My friends and I analysed and discussed and analysed this for a month leading up to a quarterly disco. He did not dump his girlfriend.

I danced with his cousin Bradley instead. He was the first boy I kissed. I figured it was close enough.

 

Sing Bitch.

In the Philippines. On the island of Guimaras, in the village Kati Kati, I stayed for a week in April. I ate a large amount of mango in between morning visits to hospitals and outpatient clinics in the area. I stayed with a family in a two room house made of branches and breeze blocks with no running water and occasional electricity. The brown outs came mostly at night.The yard was filled with chickens and ducks and dogs, who often made their way into the house. In the afternoons we took part in cultural activities and toured the island.

The Filipino people I met, especially in the week in Kati Kati were real straight talkers. Subtlety doesn’t translate well. The family I stayed with, they must have thought I was a giant. 5’7′ and plus size. I was basically Brienne of Tarth in comparison to my hosts and this did not go without comment.

We had a guide with us who was particularly excited about my size. She was very concerned about where I would sit on the trike so that it wouldn’t topple over. She made comment at dinner that of all their guests, I was most certain to float in the ocean. When we went island hopping she advised me against swimming through a caved area because I would get stuck. Each comment slightly more humiliating than the last.

We’d taken all the village kids with us on this trip to the islands and whilst we were waiting for the jeepney to take us back to the village they found a karaoke machine. I can sing a bit. I do an average Adele impression. So I sang Rolling in the Deep.

The kids all lost their minds.

It turns out that being good at karaoke is a BIG deal in the Philippines. The tour guide wasn’t there when I sang but word got back to her. She had missed Brienne of Tarth singing and she was well upset.

The following day, after some weaving in the local village hall, myself and the other students I’d travelled with were waiting to be driven back to the house when the kids started arranging chairs in front of us.

Then I was told to sing.

The hall full of children fell silent. My face reddened as I explained that I didn’t have any backing music and I didn’t want to sing alone. The tour guide found Rolling in the Deep on her phone and the song began to play.

“Sing,” she said.

The spikes.

Twitter is enraged today because it has stumbled across a picture of some spikes in a doorway where previously people had been known to rough sleep. I agree, this is not a nice thing but I feel we are missing the point.

Firstly, these spikes and many other such deterrents have been used across London for years. I know this because I worked for a homeless outreach team and battled to engage rough sleepers who were so entrenched that they refused to accept help. This is what being homeless does to people, it destroys a person’s sense of worth to the point that either they don’t feel they deserve help or they cannot trust the people trying to give it because they no longer trust anyone. I met with business owners who wanted to know how they could get the person indoors and stop them from frightening or even sometimes harassing their customers. 

As horrific as it must sound, sometimes you have to remove a person’s sleep site in order to engage that person. Rough sleeping is incredibly harmful, it affects a person’s physical and mental health and most importantly their personal safety. Each night you sleep rough you are risking getting a kicking because people do that to homeless people. 

I guarantee that the outreach team in Southwark know about this site and have been trying to stop people rough sleeping there for some time, not because they lack humanity or a sense of community but because rough sleeping kills people. On average, homeless people die 30 years earlier than the rest of the population. It’s a slow suicide. Or sometimes actual suicide. Are businesses and housing associations cool about condoning something that kills people? No. That’s why they’ve put the spikes there. Or made the benches single. Or too narrow to sleep on. Look around you. These measures are in place all over London.

In my time in homeless services I’ve met a very small handful of people who genuinely wanted to drop out of society. They’re not sleeping in high profile places where people put spikes. They’re not rough sleeping in the doorways of private properties. They hide. And to them I say best of luck, that’s your right, to live as you please. To the people sleeping on main streets outside busy buildings, there’s more going on. A significant mental health problem, a drug problem, an alcohol problem, maybe they’ve been ASBOed from most of the borough they have a connection to. They need help. Letting them carry on as they are won’t help them. 

If you’re worried about the spikes maybe instead you could worry about the housing shortage, or the lack of good mental health and drug and alcohol services in your area. Worry about how your local area is dealing with antisocial behaviour. Worry about children’s services, worry about decent homeless liaison teams in hospitals. Worry about the lack of shelters. Worry about the benefit cuts.

Oh and if you see someone rough sleeping in London call No Second Night Out on 0870 3833333. http://www.nosecondnightout.org.uk/ They can get an outreach team to that person within 24 hours, who can start the battle of building trust and getting the person back indoors.

‘Difficult’ with a bow on.

I ‘m a ‘difficult’ woman.

Don’t try and convince me otherwise, my mother would testify to this in court. As would most exes, teachers, acquaintances and hospitality staff who have ever met me.

I used to get upset about it. When I was a kid and my mum used to tell me I was ‘difficult’ with a wee smile, like she was proud, I didn’t understand that it was meant as a compliment.

What it really means is that I know what I want and I’ll make sure you know it too. I’m assertive and opinionated. There are obvious caveats; I won’t blindly wade into arguments without authority on the subject. For the most part, I won’t be rude or mean or vindictive. My assertive nature doesn’t mean I’m immune to wild insecurity but you won’t be able to tell.

This hasn’t always made me very popular. Assertive. Opinionated. These are seen as stereotypically masculine traits.

This is what upset me when I was a kid. Being called ‘difficult’ confirmed my fears that I wasn’t feminine enough to be loved. I couldn’t change these traits so I wore an alice band in my hair every day until I was 27 in hopes of dampening my image as ‘difficult’ but  then I was just ‘difficult’ with a bow on. The older I got, the less it dampened anything.

Think about it. A ‘difficult’ girl with a hair accessory is kind of quirky. She could be your manic pixie dream girl, if only she would keep her voice down. However,  a ‘difficult’ woman with a hair accessory, she might throw things*.

I guess that’s why the Pantene Advert made me cry. http://youtu.be/kOjNcZvwjxI 

*I don’t throw things. I have manners.

Permanent.

When I was 22 I saw The Suicide Girls website for the first time and thought, that’s who I want to be.

I want to be tattooed.

I want to have memories, warnings, art, parts of me, on me. For other people to see. Or not to see, depending on how I felt. It felt powerful.

I had little doubt that I might regret covering my body in ink, but I did once mention to a tattoo artist, seeking approval, that a design I’d thought of was unlikely to cause regret when I was 60.

His thoughts were that if that’s all I had to worry about when I was 60, then I’d be doing very well.

It’s just skin. It’s just a body. My body. Mine.

I claimed parts of myself that I’d once hated with colour and if you don’t like it, I don’t care.

I have cried in a lot of department stores.

Baby
Baby
Baby
Fat
Fat
Chubby not quite Fat
Fat
Fat
Fat
Fat
Fat
Fat
Really Fat
Really Fat
Chubby not quite Fat
Fat again
Fat
Fat
Lost 25kg
Nearly average
Chubby
Fat
Really Fat
Lost 30kg
Chubby
Chubby
Chubby
Fat
Fat

For the record, this is my body year by year since birth.

My mum put me on my first diet when I was 5 years old. I had a gym membership by the time I was 13. I’ve paid Jenny Craig large sums of money in various countries to try and control my weight. I’m so angry that I feel that I have to explain this to strangers. That I have tried. That I have failed at being what my mother, my peers, my previous lovers thought I should be.

I grew up in Australia for Christ’s sake. You can’t hide your body there. You have to go to the beach. It’s hot. You can’t wear a cardigan all year round. But. I. Did.

A boy I knew growing up said he could never go out with someone who was over weight because cellulite was disgusting.
A girl I was friends with in 8th grade told me the only reason I was goalie of our soccer team was because I took up half the court.
A boy followed me once making sound effects like I was Godzilla crushing the pavement whilst he walked behind me.

I have cried in a lot of department stores.

I made bargains with my mother throughout my life that if I lost weight she would give me large sums of money. I never managed to which is weird because I LOVE MONEY. I don’t blame her, for her generation looks were everything. I was told repeatedly how beautiful I would be if I. Just. Lost. Weight. One of my first boyfriends nicknamed me ‘no tits fat thighs’. AND I LET HIM. A patient in hospital said I could stand to lose a few pounds THREE WEEKS AGO whilst I was nursing her.

Apparently my body is everyone’s business.

I weigh 16 stone right now. For the record. I have lots of self control and determination. Enough to starve myself for periods of up to a year but that made me far more unhappy than being fat does. I’m a size 16/18 depending on how stretchy the material is in my outfit. I ran a 10K last weekend. I am constantly worried as to whether I have more than one chin. I usually exercise between 4 and 6 days a week. If I’m not on a diet, I am planning my next period of calorie restriction. BUT I AM TIRED. I am tired of thinking about this. I am tired of my body being judged. I am tired of everybody’s body being judged.

I am tired of being judged because I am angry about being judged.

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