I won’t lie, my first placement has been hard. I’m on a busy ward looking after elderly patients and most days I return home in a zombie-like state wondering whether I’m strong enough, physically and emotionally, to be a nurse. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from fear to blind panic, confusion to joy.
I’ve also made plenty of mistakes – though one in particular still fills me with dread. Shortly after arriving on a busy late shift, the senior nurse I was shadowing asked me to do the observations for a bay of patients. I picked up the iPad and wheeled the trolly over to the first patient in the bay.
It took me a little while to find her pulse, which was very faint, and I ended up taking her blood pressure three times to get an accurate reading. This made me anxious and I could feel my face burning up, conscious that I was taking far too long. When I got the reading, I took the remaining observations and saved the results on Patient Track before quickly moving on to the next patient. What I failed to spot was that my first patient was scoring a ‘3’ meaning that I should have alerted a senior nurse or doctor, so that she could be monitored more closely.
Later that night, I was heading to the linen cupboard when a nurse called me aside. She asked me why I hadn’t reported that the patient was scoring a three. I was horrified and admitted my mistake straight away. She was kind and told me not to worry, saying that the doctor was now with the patient who thankfully seemed to be fine – but I felt so guilty, worried that I’d put her in danger by not spotting something so obvious.
It feels horrible to make a mistake, especially one that could put someones life at risk. In my previous job, a colleague often used to say ‘it’s not life or death’ when something went wrong. It wasn’t then, but now it often pops into my mind, because as a nurse it could be!
When I got home that night, more exhausted then ever, I decided not to let it get to me. I’m sure this will be the first of many mistakes. In fact, I realised that I’m better off embracing failure – nursing is a complex, messy and confusing business, so it would be naive to think I could waltz in Florence Nightingale-style and do things perfectly first time round. Mistakes are often the best way to learn and there’s nothing quite like that feeling in the pit of your stomach for making you remember something – I know for sure that I’ll be checking and DOUBLE-checking the scores next time I do obs!
I think the trick is having the willingness to own up when something has gone wrong and do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again – but hey, there’s no guarantee. We’re only human, after all.