After my first brilliant year of working with Ellie and the rest of the team at the surgery we were taken over by a much larger practice. The idea was that we would be a satellite surgery to this one but sadly after about nine months it was announced that our old but cosy little practice was to be closed and our team would join the big one. I was so sad about this but tried to be positive about it by looking to the opportunities that were on offer. After my first month in the new place though, I just knew it wasn’t for me. The nursing team were lovely and were so welcoming and the surgery was very well run, I just felt it lacked personality and the warm atmosphere I’d been used to for fifteen years working in small practices.
I also struggled with the predominantly affluent white middle-class patients at this surgery who spent most of the appointment correcting my advice with dodgy information they’d read on an internet forum. I hated this and was tempted to walk out and let them treat themselves with their new expert knowledge. I also couldn’t bear the yummy mummies who allowed their two year olds to decide on their own treatment! I wasn’t alone in this opinion and we, as nurses, too often heard phrases like ‘Poppet do you want the flu vaccination or not?' I would then have to wait for the toddler to decide that actually they did not want it and have a tantrum whenever I tried to go near them. I once had a mum who pretty much just stared at her child while he writhed around on the floor for forty minutes. She chimed in with the odd ‘Come on Sweetie, you need your medicine’ but didn’t actually do anything to assist me administering it. I got so annoyed that I told her to leave as she had severely delayed my clinic. The other nurses and I stared in disbelief out of the window as this toddler continued his tantrum for another 20 minutes in the car park!
While I saw out my notice I was approached by two more surgeries in the area asking me to help during the ever hectic flu season. I decided the extra money would be great for Christmas and agreed to work for them on a locum basis. This was going so well that I decided to continue as a self-employed nurse once I’d finished working my notice. One of these surgeries was in the centre of town and the patient demographic couldn’t have been more different to the uptighty whities I’d been seeing. I saw immigrants, drug addicts, Eastenders, elderly people, students who’d just moved to the town and cross-dressers to name a few. What I loved about these people was that they were all so genuine. They came with no airs or graces, wanted help and were so grateful when they received it. The media is forever criticizing immigrants but every one that I had the pleasure of meeting was hard working and just wanted to support their families, be they children or older relatives. I felt like I was providing true nursing again and not just totting up target achievements that earned the GP money.
One patient I remember clearly was Jeff, a terribly thin and gaunt man in his fifties who was an ex-heroin addict. He had been clean for a number of years and was determined to stay this way but decades of using had taken it’s toll. He was very sweet and gentle but exuded sadness. His eyes were vacant and melancholy. One day he came for a flu jab and I found myself fighting back tears. As I held his frail bony arm all I could think was that this man was once somebody’s perfect little baby. I have no idea what trauma or background caused him to use heroin but so desperately wish he hadn’t. After he left I needed a few minutes to compose myself. I kept thinking about who his mother might have been and wondered how his addiction had affected his family. Attention is given to an addict when they are in the depths of despair or during the struggle of recovery but the family is often forgotten. It is an indescribably dark time for them too. I wondered if she had cared for him while he was off his face and hadn't even known she was there. I wondered if she felt sick every time she heard the phone ring at an unusual hour or if there had been times when she'd had to involve the police in his welfare. How much pain and hurt had his drug use caused her and had it broken his family? Had he tried to turn people against her because he wasn't ready for her help? Had she given him chance after chance or did there come a day when she had eventually had to turn her back to shake him into recovery? Was her mind consumed with thoughts day and night about how she could fix him but in reality was never able to? Did she have other children she needed to protect from the atrocities of addiction?
Caring for an addict feels impossible and is something nobody is prepared for. Just as you feel you may have jumped one hurdle another appears and it feels like an endless cycle. You can never do the right thing in the addict's distorted eyes because when they are using all they see is their own situation and hear their own thoughts without seeing how their actions are affecting those around them. It is often said that you can't help an addict until they are finally ready to leave rock bottom and help themselves. This is so true and all efforts before this point are futile and completely exhausting for the family. Fortunately, Jeff had reached this point and, although it had taken many years, he'd managed to turn his life around and get another chance.
For three months my self-employed work went a little too well. I was working six day weeks which was obviously a struggle with my family and home to take care of. By Spring my health was unsurprisingly being affected and I knew I needed to cut back. One night I was browsing the internet to see what jobs were around and came across a school nurse advert in a school nearby. There were very few details so I sent my C.V. and applied for it just so I could find out more. I got a call the next morning asking me to start later that week.