Nursing Prac - the reflection that I couldn't submit to uni

This prac has been a game changer for me.

I've always been a bit 'nursey' - black humour and can talk about gross things at mealtimes. I have endless relatives in nursing and a few of my friends are nurses but over the last three weeks I feel like I've started my induction into a whole new world. It's not just the stuff people talk about - naked bodies and bad smells, although I guess that's part of it. It's not just that I was useful and made a difference to a few people's days, although that was pretty important to me too. It's something else, that I'm finding much harder to put my finger on.

When you become a parent you are generally pretty blindsided. Although people talk about it, you hear the jokes, you know there is going to be sleepless nights and dirty nappies and you hope with gritted teeth that you are going to love the little thing when it arrives. But nothing, no amount of pet-ownership, nannying, teaching, reading or siblings can prepare you for the visceral reality of it. I remember back in the early days talking with my wise mum mates, lamenting the fact that no one prepared us and coming to the conclusion that no one told us because there is no combination of words that can make those feeling make sense. There is simply no way to warn anyone else of the horror and the joy of it all. I suspect it is this, multiplied by many, without the social approval and the vast proportion of the population that go through it, that prevents so many veterans from talking about their experiences in the way. No words can convey the fullness of the reality.

And finally, here I am, being admitted to the only club of which I have always wanted to be a member, without understanding there was a club or what membership entailed. I do look at naked bodies differently now (FYI old bottoms are strikingly similar, everything else is surprisingly unique) but I'm more interested in their skin tone and their abilities than their shape, whether I'm going to be able to manage whatever I'm doing without tearing skin that has become tissue paper fragile with age; whether they are going to be able to lean forward so I can wash their bottom without them standing; and how I can best help these people maintain their dignity in the most undignified of situations. As for the bad smells, I use the advice of my mother, wise old nurse that she is: breathe through your mouth. I am also in favour of surreptitiously chewing minty gum.

But the other part was the amazing part, bodies and dignity I always knew I could manage, but how to manage my own feelings when someone old and in pain gazes into my eyes, not knowing who I am, except that I am in a nurses role, and asks pleadingly 'when am I going to die' (I replied with 'I don't know' - that was over a week ago and she is still alive, but is rarely conscious now. She has no visitors so I never worked out where the garden-fresh roses or gardenias in the little vase near her bed came from). What can I say when people say 'I really don't know why I'm here' and you don't either, except they forgot they had the same conversation with you yesterday. And every day before that. So I concentrated on being my very own tiny-but-strong force for good - taking my time when I moisturize battered old legs to give the gentlest leg massage in the world, using two teaspoons of instant when making coffee for the lady who I know likes it extra strong and reciting any tiny snippets of any old poems that I can dredge up out of my memory (Ogden Nash is a favourite!).

For the record, in the 'reflection' I was required to do for my assessment, I did the written equivalent of mumbling about wound dressings and how I want to improve my aseptic technique. That isn't actually wrong, I do want to improve, but really, that's like asking a veteran about the war and being told that whenever he got new boots he got blisters. Important in it's own way, but missing the point.