I want to talk about the worst night of my life. I had just returned home from a romantic two night getaway with my husband. We have five children, one of whom only arrived 10 days previous, and two of whom, my sons, have special needs. It was the only time we have ever been away from them and it was wonderful and well needed.
It was totally worth the first hangover I have had in five years!
When I got home to relieve my parents from babysitting duties, I immediately noticed that my then twelve year old daughter’s hands, feet and tummy were extremely swollen and her eyes were puffy. She had told my parents she gets allergies sometimes, but I knew this was weird. I took her straight to A&E, fearing a more serious allergy than usual.
This is where my nightmare began.
A lot of that night is a post-traumatic blur to me now, but there are a few moments that are as clear as glass in my mind. I remember the doctor examining her, calling for his team to stop what they were doing and get down to him immediately. I remember my daughter asking me if she was going to die. I remember looking up snippets of phrases and words that I heard the team saying to each other, and Google, hurdling words back at me like ;Renal Failure and ‘Nephrotic Syndrome.’ They hit me like punches in the stomach.
I remember phoning my sister telling her something is very wrong. I remember phoning my husband to tell him the other kids don’t matter right now and he needs to make arrangements and get here. Now.
Then I remember completely and utterly falling apart. No longer capable of doing my job as The Mammy and holding it together so my child wouldn’t get scared.
This is the moment a nurse asked me if I could pop outside real quick to sign a little form. She took me by the hand and led me to a room with mops and cleaning supplies and she hugged me so tightly as my heart broke into a million pieces. She wiped the tears from my eyes and reminded me to breathe. She then told me that it’s nothing fancy, but this room is now mine for the night. She told me it’s not my job to keep my daughter from being scared, it’s her job and she will do it.
She told me I was allowed to cry because this was all very frightening. She told me to sit with my daughter when the tears stopped and to escape to the mop room when they came back, and while I’m in there, she’ll be outside, holding my daughter’s hand. She brought me tea and gave me a snickers from her pocket.
After probably my tenth trip to the mop room, I asked her when does her shift finish and she told me ‘as soon as your husband gets the kiddies sorted and is here to hold your hand.’
It’s been almost two years since that awful night. My daughter is in hospital often. Sometimes for routine check ups, sometimes for aggressive treatment like chemotherapy and sometimes for emergencies because her immune system is shot and a cold or cough has her hospitalised. The doctors look after her as best they can with an incurable, chronic disease. And I am eternally grateful to them all. Their decisive actions and thorough skills saved her life that night in A&E.
The nurses do their part in her treatment; the constant monitoring alone is intense. The paperwork is mountainous. The medications are many and difficult to administer to a moody teenager. But also… they talk to her. They listen to her, they calm her down and make her laugh. They give her the counselling that the HSE is supposed to provide for her but instead, wait-list her.
They ignore her cheek and snide comments when she’s had enough and feels like shit. Every time she walks into the paediatric ward they tell her how happy they are to see their favourite little patient. They remember her favourite band and all her siblings names. They ask her if her science teacher still has a stick up her arse.
They sneak fruit pastel ice pops into her after lights out and ask her if they can hang her drawings on the nurses station to cheer the place up because they are so beautiful. They keep a box of sensory toys on the ward for when I have no choice but to bring my autistic son’s along to appointments.
And every time it gets too much for me, which again, is more often than I care to admit, they wipe my tears, make me coffee and tell me how strong I am and how lucky my daughter is to have me.
This is not part of their job description. It takes up their valuable time and emotional labour. Their time with my family takes away from THEIR family time. They are not forced to show me such compassion, they just do it. Because they are wonderful human beings. Our government are taking advantage of our nurses empathy, endurance and caring nature. My daughter has a life-time of hospital stays and kidney transplants ahead of her… most likely, everyone who reads this, will, at some stage of their life, need a nurse with enough energy and the emotional capacity to hold their hand and wipe away their tears, while all their other vital work piles up around them.
Nurses and midwives are the backbone of our healthcare system and our government is treating them like shit. We, as a country, need to be angry about this. We need to stand in solidarity and help our nurses demand the working conditions that they deserve. We as a country deserve to be treated by nurses who are not burnt out and run down and broken.
Stand with nurses and midwives.