Never, ever too posh to wash! by @AliceWilson771

When I was a student nurse the ward Sister reigned supreme, not just over the nursing staff but with everyone who set foot in her ward. I say “her” because even when I was a student, there were very few males in nursing and the only man I ever knew who had been in charge of a ward was my own dad. In his day, my dad had to train in London with 4 other men because there were very few places that allowed men to train as nurses and certainly not in a group with women – not so much equity of access then; mind you those were also the days when women had to leave nursing and other jobs if they got married.

We have, of course, moved on but the role of the Senior Charge Nurse is fundamentally the same; to ensure the standards of care in their areas and develop and support staff – sounds simple but is done in the context of a very complex and demanding environment

Back in the day student nurses were employed by Health Boards and had a stronger sense of belonging to the organisation. Everyone had a vested interest in you from the very first day you set (a very shaky) foot into your first ward. The ward Sister took a real (and scary!) interest in first year students, working with us and teaching us things we never forgot. Over the years I have adapted much of that teaching as things move on and because there are ways I feel suit me better but there is one thing that never changes and, if I walked into a room now, I would do exactly as I had been taught; here’s why: In my first ward and on my third shift the ward Sister announced that I was going to learn “properly” about bed bathing and that she and I would bed bath “Mary”

Before we even got into the room we had discussed what we would notice immediately and over the course of the process of bathing; I didn’t understand the importance of that at that point. On entering the room, I was expected to introduce myself to Mary and explain I was a student and was learning and that the Sister would involve me in lots of discussion and questions. Mary didn’t look terribly impressed…and then, remembering what Sister had said about noticing, I realised it was cold in the room and that the window was open – that tiny prompt was the start for me about what a bed bath really means. It meant that I asked Mary if she was cold and allowed her to make the decision to close the window and realised that a bed bath wasn’t just about cleanliness and comfort, it is a unique opportunity to make a connection with another human being who is in a vulnerable situation, afraid, maybe in pain or discomfort or worrying, not about their illness but about their family, home, or often, their pets!

It is a fantastic opportunity to assess the physical and emotional state of an individual; by simply coming into a room, talking and listening and laying hands on a person you can assess so many things and offer reassurance and explanation. It is often suggested that nurses have moved in their focus to a more technical role and away from “menial” tasks such as personal hygiene,

I find this an interesting consideration and would offer that in more than 31 years of nursing I have never considered washing another human being as a menial task for the reasons I have just laid out. It is a privileged position we hold and I firmly believe that any nurse who is “too posh to wash” has perhaps lost sight of that unique chance to notice the individual

14 thoughts on “Never, ever too posh to wash! by @AliceWilson771

  1. Alice- wholeheartedly agree that washing and caring for people is a privilege . Thank you for reminding us

    • Excellent Alice, we all need a reminder now and again of why we came into nursing in the first place, its not about tasks, its about the person!

  2. Great blog Alice, this is a great reminder of how carrying out the “basics” can provide the opportunity to really get to know the person and have those very important personal interactions, and conversations. These can often be the most valuable way of developing a truly person centred assessment, rather than simply asking questions and filling in the boxes on the form and . I too have memories of the “rod of iron” ward sister approach, and those experiences ( good and bad!) have stuck by me through the years.

  3. Thanks Alice, well said! I think giving choices and listening are especially important aspects of person centred practice.

  4. Couldn’t agree more Alice. A ‘basic’ procedure but incorporates much of the ‘art’ of nursing. More complex than simply hygiene. Much of my assessment and discharge planning was done in the bathroom. Mind you, I was never a fan of the bathing trolley. That bit of string for the plug..yuk !

  5. thanks for your comments – having just received my new “Code” this week, it supports the view about the fundementals of care and doing them properly – point 1.2! – and supporting the dignity and individualism of people

  6. Your blog made me think back on my first ward as a student, 30 years ago – and yes ‘sister’ undoubtedly ran the ward. I remember prep’ing for bed baths (all equipment read before hand, or you were in deep trouble!), the exact content and layout of a trolley when doing an aseptic technique, and of course standing up when the Nursing Officer came into the ward.

    I’d say though, I’ve never met a nurse that’s ‘too posh to wash’ – I’ve met several who didn’t care enough to wash, or who perhaps (if I was being kind) didn’t fully understand the importance of it; but there again some of our colleagues fall into that category as well.

    Thanks for the blog and a wee ‘trip back’ to the Southern General Hospital School of Nursing in Glasgow 😃.

    Derek

  7. Washing somebody is such a basic but fundamental part of a patients care. In an environment where time is so precious, hoops need to be jumped through and boxes need to be ticked it is easy to say there is not enough time for the patients, this is the time. Enjoyed your blog Alice Thankyou.

  8. i totally agree as a student 26 years the ward sister ran the ward and you were afraid to stand out of line but in those days they were there as a support and ultimately learned a great deal from her. I can remember my first ward sister taking me into carry out my first last offices on a person. The sister was so compassionate and caring even in death and i learned a lot from that day something i will never forget and to this day i carry this forward and teach the students exactly what i learned from that experience

  9. Well said Alice. The one and only time you get to see the “whole person” and carry out a full assessment. Unfortunately I don’t get to do this very often, and can honestly say it’s the one thing I miss from my time in the acute setting. There is no greater job satisfaction than seeing someone clean, comfortable and in a tidy bed. (Old school I am)!

  10. Alice you’ve clearly taken many of us back to our days as student nurses. A great reminder of the importance of “basic” nursing care. We all know the positive impact of feeling clean, fresh and well presented. Thanks for sharing and reminding us all about this very important aspect of recovery and well being.

  11. Thankyou for reminding us all of the reason we chose nursing as a vocation, as important today (33 years later) as on our first day.Proud to be a nurse!

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