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Life Lessons Learnt As A Nurse

January 29, 2020

Kacie Lord, mother of uPaged founder, Zara, started her nursing career when nurse training was hospital-based, ‘Sister’ ruled the ward with an iron will, and her steely glare could leave a young nurse trembling in her crepe-soled shoes.

Kacie tells her story of pursuing a career in nursing and the invaluable life lessons she learned that she has carried with her since.

‘At the age of 15, my social conscience had really kicked in, and it seemed quite normal to me to have long thoughts about going to India to work in the slums, or to Israel to fight for a homeland for the Jewish people … I’m not quite sure what a 15-year-old girl from a sheep property in western Queensland was really going to contribute in either situation, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

School ended, and my career choices, though limited, were clear. When I felt the time was right, I braced myself for a conversation with my mother.

My beautiful mother had very little patience for my love of philosophy, psychology and my desire to save the world. I finally blurted out that I wanted to do social work. My mother hardly blinked. She simply tucked her arm through mine, patted my hand and said: “Darling, do you really want to know what other people do after dark? Much better you do nursing.”

As a compliant third child, I agreed that it seemed like a good idea.

Before I knew it, my riding boots were replaced with sensible brown lace-ups, my jeans gave way to a quaint but impractical blue dress, and my hat was replaced with a starched white cloth pinned around my head in a cone shape that stuck out about a foot above my head. What they were thinking with that uniform, I’ll never know.

I was unceremoniously deposited at the St Andrews War Memorial Hospital nurses quarters with its faded carpet, grills on the windows, bathroom walls peppered with interesting reading and endless lists of rules that were taped on every wall. The House Mistress with her plastic smile should have been warning enough of the shock after shock to come. I was a first-year nurse, and there was no lower form of life in the hospital. We could not speak to the third year nurses by their first names, and to speak to the “Sister” on duty, we were required to put our hands behind our backs.

The constant round of bedpans and washes were just part of the job.

“Growing up on a property, I learnt that when a job needed to be done, you simply pulled on your hat and boots and got on with it. It was the same on the ward.

What I really struggled with was the feeling of constantly being devalued by the charge Sisters and the patients on the medical ward. It seemed that the harder I tried, the worse it became. Nothing I could do seemed to please those grumpy medical patients.

Six months into my training, I had the opportunity to do a series of lectures by the Swiss-American psychiatrist and a pioneer in near-death studies, Dr Elizabeth Kubler Ross.

Looking back, I’m sure the only reason I went was to get out of ward work, but I went, and those seven, three-hour lectures changed my life. Dr Kubler Ross pioneered near-death research; was the first person to analyse death and dying, and she developed the theory of the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

It was somewhere between denial and acceptance in those lectures that I came to understand why I was struggling with those patients on the medical ward who always seemed so ungrateful for my help. I was, of course, making everything all about me.

“I learnt that grief has many forms and that the greatest gift I can give to someone grieving is that of my time.

That learning taught me to sit quietly with someone’s grief; not to cross the street when I saw a friend who had recently lost a loved one or to avoid talking to someone who had been diagnosed with some terrible disease.

That learning changed my time in the medical ward, and indeed, my entire nursing career.

I had always struggled with the hierarchal hospital system, but Dr Kubler Ross also taught me another lesson that I have carried with me through life – that every job is valuable, and part of keeping the show on the road and our job – as either employers or co-workers – is to make everyone feel proud of the job they do, and to feel valued.’

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