There are many things I’m terrible at. Among them is twerking and saying goodbye. I have no idea when my backside married my waist but they sure are stuck at the hip. I was never invited to the marriage. When good music blast the air waves, I spring to my feet with dire temptation to twerk and shake the bright future behind me. I end up doing what I can call a duck’s waddle and that is being kind.
Goodbyes break my heart. That is why I prefer leaving without preamble. That says a lot about my past relationships. Sometimes I feel like calling for a meeting of my ex partners and offering them a collective apology for leaving without notice. But that would send wrong signals so hold that thought.
The last time I left a workplace, it hurt. I had worked at J hospital when I was a student pursuing Nephrology nursing. J Hospital is one of the best rated maternity hospitals in Kenya. I joined them as a bank staff nurse. That is for the sake of my British readers. To the rest of the world, I was a locum nurse.
What I knew about them was that they did not recruit anyone into their pool of locum nurses unless you had been a permanent staff at some point. However I applied. See, working and studying at the same time is not easy. Though I was given a study leave by my permanent employer, I still needed tuition fee. Bills needed to be paid and a bank loan I had unwittingly taken still needed financing.
My payslip was as dull as Marasmus illusionist like smoke and mirrors. My best friend took one look at it and declared,” Catherine you’re bleeding financially and you need to make it stop or you risk never ending the poverty in your family.”
That is why I jeeded an extra source of income. J Hospital employed me even without having worked with me previously. God’s favour, I have come to realise, respects no boundaries. When God decides to bless you, it is beyond human comprehension. So I gave up trying to explain.
For the entire year of my studies, I worked with them and put my best foot forward. I also put the other not best foot forward in school. Perhaps the feet were both great because I excelled at both my studies and I learnt a lot in the hospital.
Time came to say goodbye and I remember sitting with nurse managers K and M. I told them from the deepest parts of my heart how grateful I was to serve with them. I was not being polite. I just meant every syllable and punctuation mark. When time neared for me to leave Kenya, I went back and with a tiny piece of cake, I reiterated the same to the entire staff.
They did not understand why. For the longest part of my life, nursing was just a happenstance. J Hospital reaffirmed me as a nurse. I worked mostly on night shifts and the weekends because of school but even then, professionalism in nursing screamed out like catchy headlines.
My interviewer was Director F. She was brutal at the interview but she still recruited me. I hope to one day ask her why she chose me. I know she does not even remember me. All I know is nursing started making sense during that period. I remember telling her I never wanted to be a nurse. I was sure I flopped at the interview. She said I was interesting. The rest is history.
As tears rolled down my chubby cheeks, I waved goodbye through the purple gates of J Hospital. It was time to leave for the UK.
This scene was replayed last week when I had to say yet another goodbye to my colleagues at NM care home in Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
I was convinced, after the first few months in the UK, that I was not wanted or needed as a nurse. In fact, I was ready to book the next flight to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). Transferring from the initial work station to NM was a blessing. Here I was accepted. My blackness never mattered. Here, I was a nurse and not, “that new African nurse,” said with a scowl and a scoff.
It has not been easy. I expected to work in the nursing unit but I found myself in the dementia unit. Why I never complained is actually a mystery to me. I look back and ask myself why I never once approached the manager for a move to the general nursing unit. Perhaps it is because deep within my heart I came to adore mental health nursing.
I came to fall in love with that one aspect of nursing that I always let be in total abeyance. I was protective of my residents even when they made me feel so helpless and powerless. Not once did I wake up in the middle of the night to wonder if resident X was being restless because he was somehow in pain.
The Abbey Pain score tool may be straightforward on paper but it is hard to implement on a patient with advanced dementia. Some of the scores overlap with every day mannerisms of the patient. It becomes hard to tell if they are in pain or are just having an abnormal normal day.
Nursing changes her meaning when it comes to mental health. The balance is but a slither. A tongue of merit of a procedure against the potential harm. It seems like the only choice I ever made in my nursing career is actually Renal/Nephrology nursing. The rest have sort of landed on my lap.
Take for example my experience as a midwife. In basic nursing school, midwifery intimidated me. I however liked the tutor and I aspired to be her in many ways. She was always cool, calm and collected. Even when forcing you to redo a procedure, tutor G as we called her never lost her serenity. She was the meniscus that allowed a needle to float on water. Unshakable.
When I graduated, I told my classmates that I would never ever work as a midwife. Because God has a sense of humor, my first posting was in the Maternity ward. The second one in the County government of Kiambu was to a Maternity department as well.
I was convinced I’ll never leave the Maternity environment until we lost a 21 year old to acute kidney injury. That is when my love for Renal nursing was born. It still hurts to have lost her when I’m the one that admitted her to the antenatal ward. Anyway, that is a different story altogether.
Allow me to take you through this journey. I will mention a few people that have impacted my stay at the care home.
NM nursing home enabled me to face myself. I especially had to learn a few things on conflict management. It reached a point where my team and I couldn’t coexist in harmony. Being who I am, I’m used to running away from conflicts and never once addressing them.
What I did that evening still surprises me. I asked the team to have a sit down with me and talk about their issue and I talk about mine. By the time the manager came to ask me about the argument we had had the previous evening, the case was solved. We had evaluated and planned for the future. Suffice it to say I will miss my team. They forced me to face conflicts as a point for growth.
I have been under the mentorship of mental health nurses. They have specialised in this field and I always ran to them for support. Case in point is nurse A who is a night shift nurse. Time and again I wrote nursing care plans which I wasn’t even sure of. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I never had a chance to undergo preceptorship so I have majorly been stumbling in the dark with writing of care plans.
Nurse A always checked them and in a melodious voice she would day,”stop doubting yourself my lovely, this care plan is great!” Much to my relief.
K is a mental health nurse who says that she is in her fifties. She does not look a day past 30! Being a Gemini like myself probably pulled me to her. She called my signature a ‘souvenir’ whenever we administered controlled drugs. She had the most subtle sarcasm and I think she is the only one that identified with my wicked sense of humor.
My 12 hour shift was shorter with her in the next-door unit. I knew if I ever got stuck, she would come running. Oh she can run! She ran when a resident in my unit had a chest infection and the hospital was delaying his admission.
She ran when I was unsure whether to phone for the ambulance myself or trust that the ambulance would show up after the doctor called for it one hour earlier. She infused large doses of confidence in me as a nurse.
She saw through my indecisiveness and fear. She consistently empowered my strong points and gently led me to a final decision on a matter. If I ever make a good clinical nurse, I will attribute it to K. There is something about her vast experience that is both intriguing and awesome.
Deputy home manager P is another soul I will never forget. He was always ready to help. He knows the company’s policies by heart. He knows every resident by the beat of his heart. He took me under the wing of his brilliant care and mentored me.
I remember one day sending him a message to ask if there was a problem with my skills as a nurse. This was after being fed cow turf about some nurse asking about my qualifications. I felt so insulted, so belittled. I asked P if he knew about any issues. He didn’t. He has been my sturdy bedrock of reassurance.
Tasha is a health care assistant. When I told her I’m moving to the Renal ward at the hospital, she cuddled me and quipped,” you deserve it. You need an environment that will let you be who you are” those words warmed my soul.
When I contracted Covid-19, nurse R the home manager came to my apartment to bring me supplies for the period of my self isolation. She was accompanied by the ever happy administrator H. This was the first time an employer went out of their way for me.
She asked me for a shopping list. She even looked for my preferred drink maziwa Mala known as Kefir here in the UK. R has been integral in my growth and development. Whenever I had issues and approached her, she never once unceremoniously pushed me aside. Even when I was very disturbed when someone questioned my qualifications, I asked her about it and she told me to treat those words as malice and attach contempt to them.
When I handed her my notice of resignation, she embraced it. She elicited how I needed to grow as a nurse. That a care home did not offer me enough challenges seeing that my career goals were very different. She was very helpful. I will miss working with her.
She also was happy to allow me keep swapping my shifts to suit my university lectures. Yes I am pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing here in the UK too. Thank you for the clapping. Ha ha.
The icing on the cake was to hear the regional manager T and also my boss’s boss say,” Catherine I wish you the very best with NHS. However, should that not work out, please pick up the phone and call me. We will be happy to have you back.”
Wasn’t it for Covid-19 guidelines, I’d have hugged her and wet her flowery top with chunky rolls of tears of happiness.
Friends, sometimes we do not know how much people appreciate our presence until it is time to leave. I feel this has been it for me. As I look to the future with expectant longing, I nostalgically revel in the immediate past. I see favor in everything about my life.
Many have lost jobs during the pandemic but I have not only maintained one but also got another with my speciality as a Renal nurse. There are many factors that people may use to explain that. I choose God’s favor as the explanation.
Nancy is my spiritual helper and a staunch Christian. She has a habit of discussing my life with my best friend. She once told my best friend ,”does Catherine understand that God has decided to show off His might with her life?”
I believe her. I really do.
I had promised myself to be strong. I however broke down when I saw the multicolored balloons and good luck messages strapped onto a dining table all for me. I half-cried, half-laughed when I saw a pink bow for my hair as one of the farewell gifts.
The Activities’ planner B and my team of health care assistants had made sure to get it for me. They even added white chocolates because that is my favourite flavour.
I love my hair bows. Maybe I still am a little girl at heart. I suspect myself to believe in unicorns and fairies too. In my defense, Scotland’s national animal is a unicorn. You should see my natural, kinky hair in a bow. I live for those moments. I am a happy nurse when I have a wee bow. I noticed that my residents liked it too.
I am thankful for a whole year of service with this company. I am smiling as I recall the small and big moments we have shared together.
I bid farewell to not only a care home, but MY home in Edinburgh. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your family.