Post 11 Nurse Sansom’s ‘Baptism of Fire’ on the Men’s Surgical Ward

I was a First Year Student Nurse working on the men's surgical ward in a busy city hospital when an incident occurred which threatened to end the career upon which I had set my heart, before it had even begun!   I had been assigned to give drinks to post-operative patients by Sister Bagshaw who was deputising whilst Sister Jones was on leave. Their fluid balance was being carefully monitored and I was very consscous of the responsibility I'd been given.

Exactly on schedule at 11 0'clock, I measured out 30 mls of water and gave it to Mr Timms whose gastric surgery had been performed the previous day.   His throat was parched so as well as giving him the water, I moistened his lips with a linen cloth for which he was extremely grateful.  He asked if he could have a drop more to drink but determined to follow instructions and do my best for the patients that had been entrusted to me, I explained that the doctors had given strict instructions and I had to disappoint him.

I was about to record the amount of water on the chart at the foot of the bed when an elderly man further down the ward reached for something on his locker.  He rolled out of bed and fell with a bang onto the floor.   I immediately went to his assistance.
Unfortunately, the fall caused his abdominal wound to burst.  Sister Bagshaw heard the crash, saw the commotion, and dashed over shouting at me not to touch the wound, which I wasn't going to do anyway. I hadn't seen a burst abdomen before and didn't know how it would be managed.   It was a fearsome sight with pink coils of bowel clearly visible.   The patient saw it too and must have been frightened nearly to death.

 Between us Sister and I lifted him back into bed and then, following Sister’s orders, I went to prepare some sterile cloth towels to cover his wound and the protruding intestines.   Sister then rang the medical staff and very soon the old chap went to theatre for repair of his wound.   I’m pleased to say that he recovered well and went home a couple of weeks later.   Sadly though, some three months later, we heard he had died from the cancer that had contributed to the failure of his wound to heal.
Whilst the patient who had fallen was in theatre having his wound repaired, I resumed my duties.   I was nursing another patient when Sister Bagshaw came up to me angrily waving a fluid balance chart in the air.   She grabbed my apron and half dragged me the length of the ward.   Some of the patients in the vicinity were so astounded that they shouted at her to ‘stop that’.   We finished up on the corridor outside the ward door.
Sister Bagshaw started shouting at me. 
‘You don’t care if your patients live or die do you, Nurse Sansom?  You clearly ignored my instructions about the care you are expected to give our patients.  Mr Timms was supposed to have fluids at 11am.   You didn’t do that did you?   No wonder the poor man’s dying for a drink.   I will not tolerate incompetence on my ward from you or from anyone else.’ 
I was so shaken by the unfairness of her accusations that I was lost for words.   I was absolutely certain that I’d given the fluids on time and as instructed.  What I hadn’t done was to put an entry on the chart – that had slipped my mind thanks to excitement with the man falling out of bed and bursting his wound.
Luckily the Home Sister was passing.  She heard every word that Sister Bagshaw said as she harangued me, and as I struggled to explain what had happened.   She stopped and stepped into the conversation.   Quietly and calmly she asked Mr Timm’s name and then went to speak with him.
By the time she came back five minutes later, I was sitting in a side room and crying.   I told her I wanted to give up nursing; the way I had been treated was so unfair.   I had been humiliated in front of all the other patients on the ward, wrongly accused and not given a fair chance to explain what had happened.
The Home Sister was kindness itself, she comforted me and said I was to go off duty for the rest of the day.   I replied that I needed to go back and give the patients their hourly fluids but she explained that she had spoken to Sister Bagshaw and that she would do it personally.   For the rest of the day I stayed in my room in the Nurses’ Home.
Next day I returned to the ward and when I went to give Mr Timms his drinks, he explained that when the Home Sister had come to see him, he had told her about the gentleman who had fallen out of bed, the disturbance that had caused and that he most definitely had received his 11 o’clock water!   I was so grateful to him, I could have kissed him!   He also said I was an efficient caring nurse and he was certain that I would have brought his chart up to date when it was time for his next drink.
Later in the day, to my dismay, I was told to go and see Matron.   As you may imagine I was desperately worried about what she might say, frightened that I would be reprimanded again, but it transpired that she had already heard the story from the Home Sister.  Thanks to the patient speaking up for me, Matron said I had nothing to concern myself about.   She apologised for the humiliation I had suffered at Sister Bagshaw’s hands, she encouraged me to continue my training and told me not to think about leaving. 
To this day I don’t know why Sister Bagshaw seemed to dislike me and I’m pleased to say that despite this unfortunate episode I went on to have a happy and rewarding 40 year career in a variety of nursing settings.   If I had my time over again I would undoubtedly choose the same career.
This story was submitted by Mrs Pat Clark (nee Sansom), Secretary of the Chelmsford and District Branch of the NHS Retirement Fellowship. All other characters have been given pseudonyms.
The episode described above occurred many years ago. One hopes that senior staff are more supportive these days but if you feel otherwise, do post a comment in the box below.

Quotation of the day
‘It’s sooooooo unfair’
Habitual complaint of Kevin the Teenager       Harry Enfield  1961-


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Extract from a doctor’s letter: ‘She has no rigors or shaking chills but her husband says she was very hot in bed last night’.


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