One time, when I was half way recovered from depression, a former colleague told me she was changing profession. She was qualified, experienced, kind and clear headed but had been through a difficult year and wanted to do something new. I was saddened because I thought she had lots to offer a field that needed people with principles who weren’t afraid to get close to its customers, but that at that time was suffering from an overdose of management by process. I said as much, and she replied that my absence was the same loss. At that time, I thought that it wasn’t, and that I had spent my time working with people with learning disabilities pretending to be someone else. I don’t identify myself as naturally patient, or a good listener, or anything very people centred yet I’d somehow managed to make a career of it, until, unmasked, I fell apart. Now, I’m back to a caring job. The comic, Al Murray in his character The Pub Landlord identifies all women as either ‘secretary’ or ‘nurse’. I couldn’t warm up to the ‘secretary’ option.
I was tentative about going back to college to study nursing. I doubted that I had ever been competent, and thought that even if I had, I was a different person now. I told myself I’d see if I could get through the first term. After Christmas, I told myself I’d see if I could get through my first placement. Now, I’m almost half way through that. I got placed on a fast paced acute ward, so I guess it was always going to be make or break, that it might bring back memories of my own illness, or be lost and confused, or unable to settle walk out one lunch time and not go back.
Did you see it coming? I absolutely love this placement. It’s very much like working with people with learning disabilities, only better because I’m fresh to it. Much to my surprise, I find my old skills reappearing, and because I no longer take them for granted, I enjoy them. Best of all, the people I try to help recover and get to go home. It’s confusing, overwhelming at times. Some things I don’t understand, some things I don’t agree with, and some things I’d like to get done but can’t. I can’t get used to the early starts, and the long days leave me with puffy ankles. I’m wrestling with the Practise Grids which seem to have been devised by a personnel officer who reads Puzzler magazine (for the absence of doubt, I don‘t consider either of those to be good things). The staff and patients have been brilliant and have taught me loads already. In spite of tiredness that made me sleep through my day off today, and tears because some things I hear and see in this field, I never came across in learning disabilities, I feel like I’m home.
I’ve kept my background a secret for the most part. I had been undecided about mentioning my medical history and planned to see how it went. As it has turned out, I’ve outed myself to one patient so far, because I felt it would be helpful to her at that moment. I’ve been even more reluctant to own my career history. I don’t want to come across as arrogant and put people off me before I start. Plus I wasn’t sure how much was going to be transferable, or had gone out of date. I had to put a brief account into my practise grid for my mentor though, which he looked at two weeks after I started. He talked about the relevance of my previous employment and asked me to be willing to learn. I said I hadn’t told anyone else anyway. ’You should’, he said. ’everyone can tell by the way you work’. I haven’t though because hard on its heels is the question of why I’m now a student and not a service manager. Even if I was ready to answer that, I’m still not sure that I know the answer.
My mentor sat about the office tired one afternoon, telling me about a taxing management situation (sharing no secrets though). I told him I had done some of those. He smiled, ‘Yes‘, he said, ‘it’s why I’m telling you’. So I exchanged sympathy for answers to inane student questions until he went away to write up notes and I went to the lounge where patients smiled at me and we had a laugh about what was on TV. He has a lovely smart phone, but I wouldn’t change places with him. Do you think they’ll let me stay a student forever?