The Day I Started To Learn
It was a little over 25 years ago. I remember walking into the nursing home for my interview, it was quiet and it smelt strange, sort of like my nan but with a tinge more talcum powder. I was sitting in a little office with two nurses who were the owners and also man and wife. I wasn’t nervous; I was full of youthful bravado as you are at that age. They asked me if I had ever helped someone to get up in the morning and get dressed. I giggled slightly and said that I presumed it was like dressing a baby, I cant remember another question, nothing was written down, we laughed like conspirators...I got the job.
The fact that I had never been near a baby let alone be in the position to provide the enveloping warmth of clothing was a mere drop in the ocean in my list of inexperience’s. I had left school and trained as a hairdresser so I was more akin to asking where you were going on holiday as opposed to where are the catheter bags.
However my youth was in my favour and the malleable ability to adapt to situations without giving it too much thought was beneficial in the new world of 12 hour shifts day after day that I had blindly walked into with a spring in my step.
On that day, I really had no idea.
I quickly fit into this routine. I didn’t bat an eyelid at intimate personal care and I loved being around these 15 older people with their deeply etched faces full of their varied history. I heard first-hand tales of the battle of Monte Cassino and the original BMW factories. I saw wives say goodbye to their husbands who then never returned from their routine operations. I cried, laughed and sang my heart out...all on many occasions over the time I was there. I was enamored with every single one of them and I think, at times - when there was some clarity to their thoughts – that they were content with me.
We didn’t have a cook; we would make the meal for everyone based on the owner’s directions. Occasionally, about once a year, whilst cooking - which was invariably in-between cleaning the toilets, taking people to the toilet and freeing the wandering few from being locked in a toilet - we would be ushered into strange apron type jackets, hairnets and the like. This would be so a ‘visitor’ with a clipboard could be walked through to inspect the kitchen. I’d keep my head down, knowing the owner’s eyes would be boring into me. This invader into my world would also run their eyes over the rota, which I thought odd. What I didn’t think was odd, at the time, was why the rota reflected an even distribution of hours and people when in fact there were fewer people working many more hours. The medication, normally, was left out on their food tray, with the only indicator being the colour of the napkin ring to indicate which person that should go to. They said it was OK, they said that’s how it was done. We knew the colour code didn’t we...well that was OK. On the day of the ‘visitor’ the owner, a trained nurse would give each medication to each patient.
On that day, I started to wonder.
A couple of weeks later I heard a commotion from the communal lounge. The first noise was of my colleague gasping, which was followed by splutters from a patient.
A powerful and controlled medication had been given to the wrong person. The result to the recipient, minor, the result to the giver, life changing.
For my colleague it was this trigger event in her late teens, which had an immediate and profound impact on her mental health. Her adolescence, the stress, guilt and sudden realisation of what processes should have been followed becoming overwhelming.
To my young self, a sharp thrust into the harsh reality of working under the influence of enforced ignorance.
In that short instant the tone, direction and future of at least two of us in that home shifted in its axes.
A new path was carved that day. Ignorance is not bliss, ignorance is dangerous and makes you complicit in others' failure to comply with standards.
On that day, I started to learn.
Over the next 25 years I strived to obtain knowledge in the field of social care. I took steps to specialise in the field of learning disability with a keen emphasis on best practice and compliance standards.
Today, as a company director, I can guide and help mould the culture of the company. To strive for excellence, exchanging and imparting information with high levels of training and development is crucial.
Do we still need those young people with good intentions? My goodness yes! Only now we can and have to be honest with them - no secrets, instead knowledge is power, knowledge makes us accountable.