Last Tuesday morning, I was waiting in a wheelchair for a scan. I'd had a lot of pain in the night, and had been given a strong painkiller, so I felt fogged and dizzy, and worried about what the scan was going to show. I'd been admitted to hospital at the last minute, so I wasn't really fully prepared and had to borrow one of those awful, open-backed hospital gowns, and had no slippers or bathrobe. In a very unusual lapse of consideration, the porter had brought me down to the radiology waiting room as I was, and had parked me by the reception desk, where I sat trying to pull the skimpy gown over my knees and hide the catheter bag behind my calves. I felt like a battered and unloved Ford Fiesta waiting on a garage forecourt for a service.
I started to feel rather sorry for myself.
Suddenly, a late middle-aged nurse came over to me, carrying a blanket. She didn't actually work in that section but she said she'd passed the door and seen me sitting there looking uncomfortable and had fetched a blanket for me to put over my knees. She tutted disapprovingly about the fact that I'd been sent down like this and no-one had thought about my dignity. As she left, she put a hand on my shoulder and smiled, saying "Is that better?". I cry rarely (except during sad films, when I blub like a baby), but when I do, I'm often set off by someone being nice to me rather than treating me badly. Tears welled up, but I was determined not to cry in a waiting room.
What touched me so much was that her attitude reminded me of my Mum's approach to nursing. Mum has always maintained that while it's obviously important to be able to do the technical stuff like putting in drips, taking blood and so on, the most important thing to remember is that patients are human beings, and they are at their most frightened, embarrassed and vulnerable while they are in your care. Putting someone's mind at rest, distracting them from their problems or making sure that they are allowed to hang on to their dignity can be the most important thing you can do for them.