Night Nurse: Patient #237

I used to be an HCA before I started the course. This is one of my more memorable moments. Names are removed to maintain privacy.

A fair amount of patients in hospitals require one-on-one care. This may be because they are a risk to themselves or to others, are prone to falling or wandering off, or are in any way confused. Sometimes they’re a pretty great mixture of all three. And by great I mean “oh God why?”

I’ve had to provide one-on-one care to a variety of mostly elderly patients where, as an HCA, my job was to sit with them for the duration of my shift and ensure their basic needs are met and that they are safe. This can, depending on the shift, be so restful it’s boring or so maddening I’d seriously contemplate quitting by lunchtime. This particular patient was elderly and didn’t understand a lick of English. She needed ‘specialing’ as we called it because she kept climbing over the cot sides of the bed, flinging herself onto the floor and hurting herself. Any attempt to communicate with her was met with “ok ok” and a nonchalant hand wave as she attempted to very slowly reenact The Great Escape using a zimmerframe and a pair of pink slippers.

And so, armed with this very limited knowledge, I sat myself down next to her bed and tried to keep her from belly-flopping onto the floor. However it soon became apparent that she wasn’t completely gone, she just needed things and knew we didn’t understand her enough to get it for her so she was trying to get it herself. So on my tea break, I messaged a friend:

P: brah
F: yeah fam
P: do you know any Gujarati?
F:  what, so just cuz I’s brown you think I can speak Gujarati? India has 22 languages
P: is that a no or wut
F: what you need fam

I compiled a list of the 7 most important words to know in any language (food, drink, toilet, please, thanks, you Ok?) and asked my friend to translate it into Hindi for me. Fun fact: If you say toilet in an Indian accent, even if your Indian accent is less Priyanka Chopra and more Apu from The Simpsons, the message gets across. Don’t judge me on that fact, that’s what my friend said when I asked her.

After my break I walked into the bay and sat next to the patient’s bedside. She eyed me warily, mouth set in the universal grim line all elderly women make when they think you’re worthless. I took a deep breath and nervously asked “Kem cho?”

She brightened.

The day went so smoothly after that it was comical. If I saw her shuffling in bed, I’d ask “Kem cho? Pani? Toilet?” and she’d repeat whatever word she needed back to me. I helped her to the bathroom, I got her to sit in her chair for a while, she even had some of our inferior hospital food before her daughter came with much tastier stock. The end of my shift, as I was saying goodbye to her, she grabbed my hand and whispered “thank you” to me before nodding off to sleep. I left the list of words in her folder and even though it was a few years ago, I hope the next staff member used it to full effect.

I don’t know how this little old lady is now. The problem with working as an HCA in the bank is that your connections with patients are brief and the chances of seeing them is minor. What I do know is that her great-granddaughter left me a message saying that her great-grandmother looked the happiest she’s ever seen her. And I know it’s such a silly little thing, me mangling a language and yelling “WATER” at a slightly deaf old lady, but honestly I think it’s one of my most memorable experiences. I think that’s why I kept working as an HCA for so long. Sometimes one nice moment makes up for all the not so nice moments.

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