In Sickness and in Health: I want them to know Nick as a person, not just a patient

Earlier this year, Rebecca's husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident

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The Independent Online

There are many, many reasons why I wouldn’t make much of an ICU nurse. One, I haven’t spent years dedicated to one of the most important jobs out there, but instead written columns about cats and inserted hyphens into  other people’s articles. Two, I’m squeamish. Not so much with blood and needles but eyes, open wounds and anything seeping are really not a  forte. Three, I can barely cope with seeing missing dog pictures on lampposts without falling to the floor. That I’d be strong enough to help other people cope with what is likely to be the very worst time in their lives is a bit of a stretch. I recently met an ICU nurse who looks after children (no, I  can’t imagine her strength either) and  she is my new hero. She is on her holidays and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a fortnight of fun.

So as well as being unsuited to this noble role on all of those levels, I am also, number four, incredibly nosy. When someone is rushed to hospital in the not-quite-dead-but-could-go-at-any-moment-of-night and ends up in ICU, they are stripped of everything that makes them them. They’ve become part of the medical machine, where people are the raw material that is,  hopefully, processed into a functioning  human at the other end. If, like Nick, you go in unconscious and stay that way, the self disappears along with the  clothes you’ll never wear again, the watch taken off for safe-keeping and  the wallet handed back to your wife. Dressed in a hospital gown that barely  covers your birthday suit, you aren’t a person any more but a patient.

Once Nick had turned a number of corners (as well as surviving a trip down Blood Clot Alley and finding his feet in Tracheotomy Avenue), I began to feel curious about the other patients sharing his space. Who was the chap who had a police guard at all  times – the one the nurses refused to blab about – and was he a victim or a villain? The person in the next bed to Nick who, for a while, I thought was an elderly lady but after a visit from the hospital hairdresser turned out to be a bloke. What was his story? Were they relatives or friends visiting?

With Nick’s wedding ring in a drawer at home, only my presence indicated that he had a wife and a life.  So when a couple of his nurses started  asking about who he was (is) and what makes him tick, I decided to write a fact sheet about Nick to put by his bed. Condensing someone’s life onto a sheet of A4 paper sounds akin to writing a CV, but is a very different exercise, where the writer has to weigh up space vs. love. I mentioned the jobs Nick had done (he’s a clever professional, don’t patronise him), his interests, his family, his darling daughter, his love of animals and his skill in the kitchen. Hell, I even laminated it. And added a picture of us last year so they could see the handsome, fun man I married and adore.

While I wanted those looking after Nick to see him as a patient, one who needed round-the-clock care, I also needed them to know the person they  were nursing. It’s what I’d want to know, in the unlikely event that I’d ever  be capable of doing what they do. @rebeccaj