When I reflect on the question of whether nurses deserve a pay increase or not, I look at it from how nurses have affected my life, say for example, over the last five years. I thought of the occasions over that period that they have had reason to interact with the lives of my immediate and extended family. How important were they in those times and was it just a simple job that they were performing? You may find by means of a ‘spoiler alert’ that the answer is a definite no. It is so much more than a job and they are so much more than just employees. Now that I have ruined the ending, I will expand my reasoning.
The first recollection of nurse care over the last five years was a miscarriage myself and my wife presented to hospital for. It was nurses who greeted us, took care of us and empathized with us. They knew what we were going through and unlike most people ‘on the street’ they knew how to deal with this topic and the sensitivities required for the emotions that come with it. At the lowest of our lows, they were there to get us through it.
The next encounter was thankfully a more joyous outcome. The birth of baby number one. Through many gruelling, exhausting and painful days in hospital it was nurses who primarily looked after us. It is nurses we asked our questions too, got help from, got medication from, found comfort and reassurance in, received expert knowledge and advice from, gave us a smile for the good tears and the holding of a hand for the tough ones. And all this 24/7, every day of the year. I was even present for a maternity ward midnight New Years celebration put on for the expectant mothers to be and believe me they had more for doing than organising that event. The consultants and doctors were immensely helpful also and of course it is their expertise we depend on for the big moments and the morning rounds decisions. For the rest of the time in there, make no mistake about who is actually running the show.
The next encounter was spending time with my ill father-in-law in the emergency ward. He spent a few nights in there and was unfortunately one of those statistics on a hospital trolley in a hospital corridor. These horrible scenarios are either the fault of hospital mismanagement, HSE mismanagement or governmental mismanagement, take your pick. Either way, who has to deal with the awful consequences and backlash of these inadequacies on a daily and nightly basis? Nurses. I have seen it first hand through the night and in to the early hours. People screaming for attention, for a bed, for a pillow! I have also seen how the nurses handled these situations with calmness and professionalism whilst still holding on to a caring nature that I simply would not be able to do in their place. Dealing with this crises is a job within itself in addition to their own work. This is all in a nights work after the numerous 9 to 5 brigade, administration staff and most of the doctors and consultants are home watching The Late Late Show or are cosy up in bed. The nurses remain on to man the front line and it is rarely a pretty picture.
This brings us to baby number two and for all intense purposes you can refer back to the paragraph on baby number one. The same professionalism, care and expert knowledge. The same profession calling the shots.
Next up are two middle of the night trips to A&E with a sick child in tow. Both incidents were similar in nature and outcome. We present sick child to A&E. Nurse expedites wait due to young age of baby. Nurse makes checks and probable diagnoses of child. Nurse brings us to pediatric A&E and performs more checks and tests with utmost care and knowledge. Very warm and competent doctor comes by and confirms nurses original diagnoses, nurse takes back control of the room. Off to pediatric ward for two days of round the clock care. There are a cycle of nurses continually there managing so many different tasks I couldn’t keep up. All the while presenting to us with smiles, jokes, songs for the kids, uniforms with teddies on them, a playful manner to put any child(and the occasional parent) at ease, answers to nearly all questions and concerns, serious intervention when required, respectfully ‘falling back’ when the consultant appears to deliver verdict and decision and they then take back the reigns again when they disappear.
This is not just a multi-faceted job, this a high paced methodical operation that, did I mention, must come with an absolute ‘life calling’ of a true caring and compassionate nature. These few interactions I have had over the years could even be considered ‘small time’ compared with the nurses who are dealing with the life and death emergency operations, cancer care patients, palliative care – journeying with patients from life into death and supporting the families left behind, dealing with extremely sick and dying children.
When we feel fit and healthy in ourselves, these are the times when we do not appreciate our heroes. It is when we are sick and at our worst, our weakest, our most fragile and vulnerable. That is when our heroes generally appear. Who else is going to fix an issue with your colostomy bag with grace and humility? Who else is going to wash you when you are too frail and have no one else in the world to do it? Who is going to perform the tasks you might even be too embarrassed to ask your own partner to do?
We must look after our nurses, if for nothing else, so they will be there to look after us. We don’t want to loose them to other industries where they may well get paid more but their ‘calling’ goes unheard. We don’t want to loose them on a plane with their junior doctor colleagues to a country that appreciates them more than their own.
Nurses, like soldiers, are our first line of (medical) defence, who like soldiers do most of the work, receive a lot less pay then their superiors for a smaller share of the credit. It takes courage to do what they do. If you take away their incentives and any goodness left in performing their duty, then what’s the point? You may damage permanently that national line of defence and we do not want that. These women and men are our unsung heroes in our hour of need. Let’s treat them as such.