Carry on nurses

You’ve heard this before: nurses are overworked and underpaid. I’ve just done 8 days of research, and, believe me, it’s true.

I had a hip revision at the Mater Hospital in North Sydney last week, and from my first contact to my last with the nurses at this excellent private medical facility, they were simply fantastic.

After a couple of hours of having the 24-year-old top part of my artificial hip replaced by the splendid and prolific orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Michael O’Sullivan, I was wheeled out of  recovery by my first caring nurse into a room with three other male patients. (Also deserving kudos was my anaesthetist, Dr Mark Egan.)

It was about 9.30pm when my wife left and assumed I’d go to sleep. But no, I had low blood pressure and the several nurses on that night had to keep checking. That was the bad news. The good news is that Australia was playing South Africa in the Second Test and there was something exciting on television to watch while being armbanded with the blood pressure monitor.

I lasted until the very end of the game when the Test debutant 18-year-old Pat Cummins blasted the winning runs for Australia — a scenario I had predicted to myself (no one else was awake except the nursing staff) — and I could get some sleep amid the constant but compassionate checks.

Unsurprisingly, day two found me exhausted, but I felt okay until I had a big hot lunch, and wound up with a slight fever (38.8) and a feeling of nausea. But the young nurse on that day called Dr O’Sullivan and he said to give me a spongebath and put a cold towel on my head, and sure enough the temp went down to normal.

My visitors were most impressed.

By day three, the nurses and physios were keen to get me up, and so was I. Sarah, a nurse recently arrived from England, got me out of  bed and said: “You look breathless.” I felt a bit that way, and it reminded me of the time I got up after my first hip operation and nearly fainted. Then, the nurse took me back to bed; this time I made it to the chair.

Meanwhile, Sarah and a student nurse from the University of Tasmania, Suzanne, were looking after several other patients, all in need of specialised care after hip and knee replacements and implants. How they had time to do all this is beyond me.

Later that night, a new nurse came on, very conscientious, and a patient arrived from recovery after a hip replacement. The nurse was also expected to do paperwork and look after other patients, so I wasn’t about to bother her. But I did have a problem: I needed to urinate and possibly have a long-awaited bowl movement. I reluctantly pushed the call button, and waited a while. But I knew what was going to happen: the plastic bottle wasn’t going to hold all the torrent that was coming. I will spare you the details, but there were a few wet smears before bedtime. Still, it could have been a lot worse if the nurse hadn’t dropped everything and got that bottle to me on time.

This Monty Pythonesque moment came, ironically, as I was watching the ABC’s 7.30 latest report on faulty hip implants manufactured by Johnson & Johnson.  A Senate committee has criticised Australia’s medical watchdog over its handling of the implants which have resulted in hundreds of cases of metal poisoning in Australia (here’s a link to a video of the report:

I told the nurse it was neither her fault nor mine. She looked after me extremely well, and the newly arrived patient as well as her other  charges. I think she was the first one to whom I used my oft-repeated mantra: “Nurses are overworked and underpaid.” I’m sure the same thing could happen in any other hospital in Australia, and Mater is one of the best. No wonder nurses are striking in Victoria!

The next morning I met the new arrival, Duncan, who owns a horse farm in New South Wales, and discovered he had a Johson & Johnson hip implant in 2006. It was still working, and he’d had no problems with it (he was getting the other hip done). He’d heard my frantic call for help the night before and thought it was funny (I could also see the comic side!).

In any ward where orthopaedic patients are found, physiotherapists are extremely important. They get you up on your feet, tell you what exercises to perform and show you how to use crutches and frames. They also prepare you for life on the outside world, and how to avoid coming back for another operation well before it’s due. They rank right up there with nurses in my favourite people category. They also appear to be overworked and underpaid, especially if they work on weekends. And there are occupational therapists, like Sam, the head of OT at Mater, who talk to you about how to handle yourself at home. Sam also had no hesitation in getting on the floor to put on my anti-blood clotting socks when she realised I didn’t have them on  — a real down-to-earth Mater staffer!

My roommates, Duncan, Stewart and Ken, good blokes all, agreed with me about the quality of care at Mater, and marvelled at the way one senior nurse could come into a room at 10pm, marshall all the resources, give us drugs, check our blood pressures, clean up the room, close curtains around the bed and then turn out the lights, all in the space of ten minutes or so. She even managed to give us headsets for our remotes so we wouldn’t disturb our fellow patients when watching television. All this and more — coming back during the night and discreetly checking if we needed anything else.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Just a general observation: our ward is a vision of the future. A future encompassing assembly lines of hip and knee replacements for the baby boomers: well medicated assembly lines for the thousands of senior citizens and quite a few middle-aged patients who are in need of new joints. In fact, the Australian Orthopaedic Association recorded 80,500 knee and hip replacements last year!

That number is only going to increase with revisions like mine added to the total, so more orthopaedic surgeons, nurses and ancillary staff will be needed.

Despite the faulty Johnson & Johnson implants, Australians are no longer afraid to go under the knife, and for good reason. The association says in more than 90 per cent of cases, the replacements remain a success a decade after they were performed.

Which brings me back to my reason for writing this blog: nurses. No matter what the new technology, women and men who look after patients are going to be needed in the future: to dress the wounds, to comfort the sick, to wipe noses et al, to help keep people alive and a myriad other things.

Please carry on nurses, because if you don’t we’re all in trouble.

4 thoughts on “Carry on nurses

  1. Comforting words, Tom, and well said on nurses. I’ll be in that ward (different hospital) within a year. The nurses issue is enormous. Their problem is that the bean counters of gummint can’t get their heads around how to quantify their contribution to GDP. It’s a social value. Doesn’t rate with the Treasury.

    • Thank you, Paul. Yes if more government staff, especially Treasury, saw how hard nurses worked, they wouldn’t have any trouble quantifying their contributions to GDP. What makes these boffins so unable to put themselves in other people’s shoes? Good luck on your visit to hospital, but don’t worry, the nurses won’t let you down, even if governments lets them down!

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