The First Time

We all have our first times.. Our first cardiac arrest, our first catheter, our first tears. Written in April 2022.

A Close Shave

I remember the first man I shaved. He was my friend; I was 22 years old. I stood in the bathroom of his student house, razor at the ready.

               ‘This is weird, tell me again why you need to do this?’ He had 2-day old dark stubble, a terrified look on his face.

               ‘Because I have to learn how to do it, I don’t want to practice on a real patient.’ I discovered it’s not like shaving my legs, you have to hold the razor the other way, moving down the face not up it. But I did it, I shaved my friend.

My next shift, armed with shaving foam, warm water in a bowl and a razor I shaved my first patient. He was an 86-year-old man, had suffered a stroke so no longer had the dexterity to tame his own facial hair. My hands trembled slightly as I pulled his wrinkly skin taught. His stubble wasn’t like my friend’s, his was white, tough like bristles of a brillo pad. Unlike my friend who moved and swerved away from me, terrified I’d cut him. My patient sat perfectly still, propped up by his pillows, wearing his uniform of green hospital pyjamas. My patient had complete trust in me, I was his (student) nurse; I was a professional. Inside I felt sick, with every stroke of the razor I felt like I would drawer blood, he would flinch, shout at me, I’d ruin his face. But I didn’t I remained calm, in control and attempted to remain professional.

Over 20 years later I think of this day, I think of how many firsts I have now had, and even at this stage in my career I’m still having more. I have moved into a secondment, a non-patient facing role, purely management and admin. It’s a secondment for a year.  But I now must navigate my way around the corporate, strategic, policy driven aspects of nursing/healthcare. It’s my first time in a ‘real’ office job. I can even wear nail varnish!

I think back to all my nursing-firsts, my first cardiac arrest, first cannula insertion, first patient to fall on my watch, the first signs of a deterioration, my first handover. The first relative to shout at me, the first doctor to disagree with me, the first catheter, the first time to be the one to deliver the blow, the first one to shield the blow. I have had so many firsts.

I recall witnessing my first seizure, I was terrified at the violently shaking, frothing and tongue biting human being on the ED trolley. Like a possessed demon from a horror movie. And afterwards, his postictal stage, shouting then crying until he returned to himself, his lip and tongue still bleeding as the nurse reassured him. I remember hoe scared I was, terrified that I would get hurt, or the patient would fall off the bed and hurt himself. I was terrified at seeing the human body so out of control.  Now I can’t even count the seizures I’ve witnessed, the Diazemuls I’ve administered both IV and in the rectum. The patients I’ve turned on their sides in the recovery position post fit, or the nasal-phalangeal tubes I’ve inserted to help maintain an airway. But I remember my first fit, when I didn’t know how or have the skills to do any of the above. And I remember feeling grateful that the nurse alongside me did. Grateful that the nurse beside me supported me, explained the process and encouraged me to ask questions.

Now I’m gearing up for the first big meeting I chair, the first time I must analyse the data, present the data, the first time I am scrutinised for my reports.  But what remains evident and is of great comfort is that still I have other senior nurses who has signed of these firsts and are there to guide me through. Health care is like this, one practitioner will be at the start of their professional journey, another will be confidently sailing through theirs, someone else will be nearing the end. And that’s what gets us all through our firsts, it’s the team around us, the support, the camaraderie, the humour. It’s the pulling each other through, it’s the gentle nod we give to each other to reassure, the hug at the end of the shift. It’s the senior team being an inspiration, an example, being role models.

On deciding to apply for my secondment, I doubted myself, my abilities, my knowledge. But just like that first day in my blue uniform, that first step of a thousand-mile journey, I took it. And I’m very glad I did. Moving out of a job I knew well, was confident, competent and trained in felt like a big leap. I felt vulnerable and new, waiting for a whole plethora of new firsts to happen.

Remembering that first patient shave. After I’d washed and dressed my patient, I helped him into a shirt, a tie (which I too needed help with), I hoisted him into his bucket chair. He sat as tall as his body would allow and I watched as his daughter arrived, her first visit after travelling to see him. She leant over to give him a kiss on his cheek, the first kiss of a new stage in her father’s life, in his illness. And I’m almost 100% sure that on that first kiss, not a hair or bristle could be felt by her lips.

Published by @NicolaP

Nurse, Mum, nature lover. Sharing memoir extracts of nursing and living through the covid pandemic.

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