Like stepmothers, I think psychiatric nurses have been given unfair treatment in the media. Just as not all stepmothers are evil witches busy concocting poisoned apples while preening themselves in front of magical vanity mirrors, then equally not all psychiatric nurses are oppressive, dictatorial demons as personified by Nurse Ratched in the movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. In fact, although I have no first hand experience, I believe that few psychiatric nurses behave like Nurse Ratched. Overall, psychiatric nurses are well trained, compassionate and dedicated to help some of the toughest patients there are. This post is a tribute to them and to thank them for doing a very difficult and often thankless job.
This is my friend, Jo. She is a nurse. She is one of the sweetest and kindest persons I have ever known. I don’t know if she finally became a psychiatric nurse but as a student nurse, she had to do a period of on-the-job training at the high security psychiatric ward of a local hospital.
Once, soon after she started, I noticed that she had cut her hair short. It didn’t really suit her and I asked why did she do it. “It’s funny, really” she said with her characteristically pleasant drawl. “One of the patients tried to strangle me with me own hair.” And then she laughed. I didn’t think it was that funny to be strangled by your own hair but that was Jo; she laughed these things off and they became unimportant compared to the work, the good that she was doing.
On another occassion, a few of us were invited to a friend’s apartment for dinner. When I got there, Jo and a couple of other student nurses were already there. They were seated in the living area and were laughing so hard that tears were rolling down their cheeks. Always looking for a good laugh, I sat down next to Jo and asked what was so funny.
Jo took a couple of deep breaths and dried the tears with a hankerchief before she related the tale to me. “Well, I started on the high security psychiatric ward this week on Tuesday, you see.” I nodded as I knew about that.
She continued, “We had been briefed thoroughly on safety measures and I was all pumped up, you know. Adrenaline was rushing as they opened the security doors to let me in.”
“I hadn’t taken two steps in through the door when I came face to face with this big naked bloke. He stared into my face and I was too surprised to do naught else but to stare right back. Then I heard the voice of the matron yelling, “Stop him!”
“I looked pass the man and I can see a couple of the big male nurses running towards us with the matron behind them. But before I knew it, he slipped past me, through the security doors and was out in the general hospital area.”
“I’m sure like me, you’d been rooted to the spot too, uncertain what to do. But suddenly, the matron shouted again for me to stop him and that jolted me into action. After all, if I have learnt naught else on this course, it is to snap to when the matron shouts an order.” The other student nurses nodded their heads in agreement.
“So, what did you do?” I asked, captivated by the excitement of the tale.
“Why, I ran after him. I chased him down five flight of stairs, through the cafeteria and we were running along the walkway that runs around that small central garden; the naked bloke in front, me just a few steps behind, much further back a couple of burly male nurses and the matron bringing up the rear, still shouting. What a sight for all to see.”
I was visualising it in my mind’s eye. It was quite a busy hospital and this must have been quite a commotion. “So what happened next?” I asked in anticipation.
“Well, we were really running. Belting along in that order when suddenly it hit me; what would I, what could I do if I caught up with him.”
“So what did you do?” I asked enthusiastically.
“So, I pretended that I got the cramps.” she said jubilantly and with that all three nurses broke up into hysterics once more.
As I said, it takes a special breed to do this work. Thank you, Jo and all the others working with the mentally ill. Your patience, resilience, compassion and sense of humor is much appreciated.