I didn’t always want to be a nurse. When I left school in the mid 1980’s with no qualifications, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living, but my interests were firmly in the arts – drawing and writing. “No-one in Real Life does that, though” I thought. I remember going to the careers office aged 16, and telling them I wanted to be a window dresser in a department store.
It took me til I was 20, working in various shops and going nowhere near the window displays, before a chance opportunity saw me change direction completely. I started working in the Occupational Therapy department of the hospital, in Stroke Rehab. This was on a government scheme, and at a time when retail jobs were few and far between, I thought I had nothing to lose.
I loved it, and was fascinated by the myriad of ways in which a stroke can affect someone. I discovered a thirst for learning, far removed from my school days when I quickly got bored, and was told I’d never amount to anything. At the end of the year, there was no budget for an OT Helper, so I decided to go to college and try doing some O levels while I figured out what to do next. I didn’t think I had the brains to go to university to do OT, and the Head OT in the department had mentioned that there weren’t many jobs about anyway. I loved working in the hospital, I loved helping people, so I made a decision. I was going to train to be a nurse.
A year later, I had five O level passes, a student handbook and application form for nurse training. The process was not a quick one, so bearing this in mind, I started another government training scheme. (I tried going down the route of being an auxilliary nurse on the nurse bank, but there were no vacancies at the time). This time, I ended up on the Day Surgery Unit. The Sister and Charge Nurse were both fantastic – knew I wanted to do my training, and tried their level best to make sure I had both a good grounding in basic nursing skills, and a wide variety of experiences. It is something I shall always be grateful for.
I eventually started nurse training in early 1994, under the new Project 2000 scheme. I learned because I wasn’t afraid to ask, and because I already had that groundwork, I really think the ward staff appreciated my previous experience, and not having to teach me the basics.
In June 1995, disaster struck. Two weeks before an important exam (CFP, if you’re interested), my beloved Grandma died. I was devastated. She had more or less raised me as a child, and we were incredibly close. I sunk into a deep depression and contemplated suicide. I started having panic attacks (although I didn’t know what they were) and I stopped caring about myself or what happened to me. It happened during a placement on children’s ward, and I guess in that respect I was lucky – at least I wasn’t looking after old ladies…
Back in college a week or so later, my heart sank when I looked at the timetable – Wednesday morning, “last offices and bereavement”. This certainly was a case of bad timing, and I asked the tutor if I could sit out. She said no. The college was well aware of the situation. I’d sat in with my personal tutor a few times, in floods of tears, trying to explain how important Grandma had been. Now the college ignored that. I sobbed silently through the lecture, and eventually walked out, unable to listen to any more.
The following week, I was to sit the exam. I blundered through it, was referred, resat it the week after with similar results. I appealed to the university, and after hearing my heart wrenching plea, they said I could take it again. Three days later.
I was in no fit state to sit exams, and inevitably, I failed again. My nursing career was over. I found out several months later that I could have taken six months out and joined the intake behind ours, but this was never suggested to me. In all, the support from the so-called “caring profession” was frankly shit.
In the coming months and years, I found myself frequently regretting what had happened. As time went on, I became interested in new things and considered new careers. I still wondered one day whether I would go back. Later, when people asked, I said no – I wouldn’t go back partly because of my health problems, and partly because my interests have moved.
I still maintain an interest in the medical profession, being a fan of Tom Reynolds, Dr Crippen and Mental Nurse, but when I read this post by Dr Crippen about an email from a student nurse, I felt glad that (even though traumatsing) I’d got out early.
Now, if I’m asked if I’d go back into nursing, I’ll refer them to that post, and say “not on your nelly”.