At the very beginning of my journey into nursing I worked as a care assistant in a care home.
Barnabus House was its name, a small converted hotel on the edge of the Wirral peninsula.
I spent a long summer awaiting my nurse training to start. Learning how to look after young men and women with no ability to achive their own activities of daily living. It was an incredibly steep learning curve.
I’d left college wiser but with very little to demonstrate it. I could rewire a motorbike, take apart basic parts and rebuild them and knew the basics of getting on in life but had no real idea of who I was or what I wanted to do.
I joined a team looking after young adults with severe learning difficulties and physical disablement. Some had epilepsy that was very difficult to control. All of them had life limiting diagnoses but our job was to help them live happily and safely in what was their home.
Communication was very difficult, as each person was either deaf or had no ability to talk.
Making connections was key to getting a trusting relationship. For one young man it was music played loud all day. He smiled and shouted ‘again!’ after each album finished. It was the summer of Achtung Baby by U2. I still sing ‘One’ and think of him.
For another young man it was long walks along the sea front pushed in his wheelchair.
One man though was very hard to reach. He would clap, smile occasionally but mostly just wander the home and garden with little interaction with anyone or anything
One day, an early evening, I walked with him. Just following his route and steps, talking and sharing my view of the day.. What I was doing and thinking, just trying to connect with him, just wanting to make him know I could see a person. He stopped, grabbed both my arms looking straight at me and laughed. Laughed out loud, a proper belly laugh. For a whole 30 seconds.
One of the senior nurses was amazed. She’d known him for a long time and he’d never behaved like that before. Not spoken or uttered a noise.
I was convinced it was just a pre epileptic fit aura, but no. He sat there. Smiling. Just smiling and looking around. 5 minutes later you’d have no idea it happened. But it did. It had a huge impact on me. I was already waiting an opportunity to start my nurse training but this sealed it for me.
I’d gone from not having a clue what I wanted to be, to applying for what has turned out to be a life defining journey.
His smile and laughter showed me the priveleged position this role gives you. The chance to make a profound difference to people’s lives with the simplest acts of kindness.
So. That stays in my head, well stays in my head as much as it can. Pressure, challenge, stress all do their best to push it away. But I aim for it to stay. Each patient. Each person. Each contact. Knowing that a smile, a conversation or taking time to listen can make a huge difference.