As I parked up my first morning, even above Slade’s Noddy Holder screaming “It’s Chriiiiiistmass”, I could hear a female screeching “Medication. I want my medication. Where’s my medication? I need my medication.” The poor neighbours either side of the building must have been well p’d off. It was six forty-five, pitch black outside and the streets were eerily quiet — other than the high pitched screeching coming from the Mental Health Rehab Unit piercing the air.
Someone in the office by the front door pressed a button to let me in and I was greeted by this tiny little lady who grabbed both my hands and panted “Help me. Help me please. I need my medication. You’re new. Are you an Agency Nurse?” Will you help me? Please?”
I spoke calmly but firmly, “Listen to me, I can’t help you right now…” I was trying to placate her enough so that she could hear me and take in what I was saying. At the same time I was trying to get her to take a breath as she was panicking and was as white as a sheet. I really felt for her.
“Please, please. I’m begging you,” she continued to screech, now in my face, as I tried to disentangle myself from the tight grip she had on my wrists. The office door opened and a nurse yelled “Cindy, stop it, leave her alone. Cindy!” I’d now managed to get myself free but Cindy had grabbed the nurse and was pulling on her cardigan, all the while screeching “You’re a bitch. You’re a fucking bitch! Get my medication you fucking black bitch.”
The nurse eventually pushed me into the office and she followed, turning to slam the door in Cindy’s face with a kiss of her teeth “Oh Lordy Lord. That Cindy. She will be the death of me. I am Ayo. Who are you?”
I breathed a sigh of relief and introduced myself as the Student Nurse. “I don’t know. See how it is here. I pray to God for her sins,” humphed Ayo. “Hmmm. Take a seat. Ah! Here come the staff.” and I turned to see two females and one male puffing away outside, the ciggie smoke belching through the office window. “Tsk, Tut. I don’t know. Smokers, heh!” moaned Ayo as she reached to slam the offending window shut.
Seven o’clock on the dot the three members of staff traipsed in, throwing their coats on top of a filing cabinet. Lisa was first to introduce herself as the RMN, the shift coordinator and my supervisor, and said “That’s Lorna, she’s a qualified (RMN) and that’s Graham the NA (Nursing Assistant).” Where’s the fourth member of staff? I thought to myself.
“Okay.” started Ayo, above Cindy’s screeching. “The lady herself. Cindy, she slept and now she has been shouting before six thirty. Lord help me! Everybody still in bed. Only Sasha, she awakes all night but she stay in her room. Somebody needs to clear her room. I saw the mouse there.” My feet moved on their own, up off the floor as I sat on a desk, and I shuddered involuntarily when I was looking around for the said mouse.
Ayo continued and ended with “Moses needs to see a Doctor and his toenails need to be cut. It’s in the diary for this morning. Now I’m going home. Goodbye!” She pulled off her slippers and put them in her bag then huffed and puffed as she bent down to put her shoes on. She grabbed a large woollen blanket and shuffled out of the door.
Lisa went through the diary, handed out tasks to the other two and said she was doing medication and that I should shadow her. Lorna went off to wake up the other nine patients that lived in the ten bedded unit and Graham wandered off to the kitchen to prepare for breakfast.
With our coffee, Lisa and I went to the medication room, we were met with Cindy who was still gulping in great lumps of air, wringing her hands and saying “Thank you Lisa.” and “Thank you nurse.” to me. Yes, I could get quite used to being called Nurse.
“Right Cindy. You know we start titrating down your Diazepam today.”
“No, please Lisa. Not today. I can’t cope. I can’t cope!” Cindy screamed.
“Nought point five milligrams Mandy. You won’t even notice it.” Lisa tutted and turned to me. “She’s been on thirty milligrams three times a day for years and you can see it doesn’t reduce her anxiety. So we’re going to try titrating down while she’s in Rehab.” Cindy lived in a one bedroom flat and had apparently relapsed over a period of six months prior to admission to an acute ward. Once stabilised she was transferred to rehab.
People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue. Titration looked like it would go on forever, reducing her Diazepam by nought point five mg three times a day. However, Cindy eventually accepted the reduced dose and greedily swallowed down all her medication, followed by gulps of water, then scurried off to the dining room.
We continued until each patient had had their medication then joined everyone for breakfast in the dining room because, on rehab, we were encouraged to eat with the patients each mealtime. Lisa waffled something about nurses having a responsibility to role model table manners and eating with the patients was supposed to encourage healthy eating. I wasn’t sure that this was an evidence-based intervention but I went along with it anyway.
Coffee and toast with jam was just what I needed but as I sat to eat I was immediately struck by an offensive odour. One older lady to my left had obviously not washed or brushed her teeth, yet there was another disgusting smell.
Graham screwed his nose up and said “She’s just sat there and shit herself and carried on eating!” to nobody in particular. “That’s Elsa.” he whispered with an Aberdonian accent. “She normally goes to the toilet but she uses her clothes to wipe herself and then hides them down the back of the toilets, eh Elsa?” he now boomed. “Elsa, say hello to Nancy, she’s our new student.” Elsa’s face was buried in the huge breakfast she was picking up with her teeth. She raised her head and gave me a toothless grin.
None of the staff got up to help Elsa so I offered, but Graham told me “No. Wait til after breakfast!” And this is rehab? I wondered — does it really work?
Around the table, there was belching, farting and one young chap was trying to snort back the snot that was threatening to hit his top lip. He eventually gave up and wiped a huge glob on the sleeve of his t-shirt leaving a silvery snail-like trail.
Coffee finished and my toast in the bin, I helped clear the table and took my time in the kitchen. I was hoping someone would deal with Elsa, as I was already feeling queasy. Fortunately, she’d gone by the time it took me to do the dishes but she’d left wet poop dribbling down the chair legs. Gloves and apron on and ten minutes later the chair was scrubbed and left outside in the back garden to dry.
Activities of daily living
To the bedrooms on the first floor now where I tried encouraging patients to wash and dress before attending any appointments or activities. Oh my word! I’d knocked and opened the door to Sasha’s room and was aghast at the cereal boxes piled as high as the ceiling. At a guess I’d say there must have been over two hundred boxes and the only other floor space was filled by her bed and two or three black sacks.
“Get out of my room.” stormed Sasha as she pushed me and slammed the door. I stood for a few seconds, stunned, then knocked and called out “I’m a student nurse Sasha. Is there anything I can do? Would you like me to help you clean your room.”
“Get lost.” Sasha muttered. I went to find Lisa and asked what I could do to help Sasha. “Not a lot,” Lisa laughed. “Her room’s been like that forever. She won’t let us in.” That can’t be right. Surely we have a duty of care? I went to the office to look through Sasha’s file and her painstakingly completed but outdated care plans to see if I could find ways to engage her.
I read that she was single, had no children and had been in care since the age of eleven when her mother couldn’t cope with her chaotic behaviour. She was thirty one and was diagnosed with Schizophrenia at eighteen. Sasha heard voices and was often heard talking back to them when alone in her bedroom. Apparently Sasha had no insight and didn’t believe she had a mental health problem. She’d been on the unit for six months and was awaiting housing but it was proving difficult to find a place that would meet her needs.
I decided then that I’d be really firm with Sasha right from the start, telling her that we have a duty of care to ensure that her environment is habitable. If she wouldn’t clean it herself, then we would have to do it! It annoyed me that staff had let her live like this for months. Even if Sasha had refused to let them clean it, surely the staff could have come up with a plan between them.
It was exhausting and often thankless, but I worked hard with Sasha for the next twelve weeks, updating her care plans and engaging her in meaningful activities; things that would both interest and help her rather drum banging or painting by numbers. I appreciate that one of her care plans previously stated ‘Engage Sasha in activities.’ But, while these particular activities may help with dexterity and fine finger/hand movement, I wasn’t sure they would support her development. It was clear that certain staff had intermittently tried to push Sasha into any activities and wrote in her notes ‘Declined to attend.’ I wondered why!
I’d eventually learned more about Sasha, along with the other patients on the unit, and had managed to form a professional bond with each of them. As I got to know them better, often by engaging them in friendly banter, I was better informed about their likes and dislikes. It was easy to see they weren’t interested in particular activities and that they had their own ideas about how to spend their time.
Mark liked football so I’d have a kickabout with him in the gardens – he was quite good – so encouraged him to attend the local leisure centre where he could access different types of exercise and look out for a local football team to join.
Jenny loved knitting so we bought her knitting needles, a few patterns for baby clothes (that she requested), and some wool. She wasn’t great, dropping more than a few stitches, but that wasn’t the point. She enjoyed it. Other staff who could knit helped her unpick and start again. Eventually, with the help of staff, she started her own small weekly knitting group on the unit.
We also got a group of patients to go swimming once a week, with a member of the team. We also went to the local pub once a week so that some of the young lads could have half a pint and a game of pool. They’d never felt comfortable going into a pub previously, because they were worried about what other people thought. We quite often did get some odd looks but as a rule, the regulars were great – helping the lads with their game and showing them trick shots.
At the end of my placement I loved seeing Sasha and the others laughing, smiling, engaging and growing in self-confidence and once again, I was sad to leave.
I would later bump into some these patients in various settings i.e. in the community or on the wards and I was either saddened by their relapse or delighted by their continued improvement.
Note to self: “Public service must be more than doing a job efficiently and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people and to the nation.” Margaret Chase Smith.