Simon Carr: When did nurses go from nuns to sadists?

Share
Related Topics

When all those hands went up at the nursing conference this week, there was this sudden rush of fellow feeling.

Yes, as they voted for or against the abolition or re-creation of Strategic Wellbeing Trusts or whatever they're called – I had that profoundly comforting sense "I am of these people". They hate change, and I always like that. It's not quite a counsel of despair – that things can never get better – but it does say they aren't falling for the latest big idea to make the world a better place. These administrative ideas – if that's what they were voting against – never work but they take five or 10 years to fail.

That wasn't the most important feeling though; there was a more visceral sympathy in play. When my new friends put up their hands to vote you could almost hear the effort. You could almost hear the communal grunt, like a scrum going down.

And there they were, the elevated forearms of Britain's most important nurses. Male and female, it was the same. Hands like a pound of pork sausages. Arms like hams. As the camera panned along the rows of wobbling crops, it was clear that these were people who knew the merits of a mixed box of Krispy Kremes.

And that's what I have in common with the medical left. When I'm asked how I manage to keep my figure, I reply in one word. And that word is doughnuts. Five portions a day. Glazed, jam, cream, deep-fried in multi-fats and jelly- filled. Apart from "balance" and "varied", the most widely recognised rule of nutrition is: you can't have too much of a good thing.

That is literally true. For those of us who eat bacon and eggs for breakfast – there's never any good reason to stop. You may have to lie down after an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet – but there is always room for another fried egg.

To see my private eating habits publicly endorsed by our most organised health professionals – to find the mainstream has changed course and is now lapping around my middle – that's comforting at my time of life.

In the old days, nurses didn't have much of an opinion about weight and most of them weighed what they were supposed to. Of course, there wasn't as much food in those days. It was physically impossible to eat between meals. And indeed, going back into even more primitive days, the wards were clean. Young, barely educated nurses did what they were told – and what they were told to do was wash their hands a lot, and wipe down the bedsteads with disinfectant every morning. They wore bright uniforms with starched little caps and addressed you with little terms of endearment and if they used your name it was your surname. Especially if you were older than they were. (You probably were.)

What's caused the change, if anything particular has? Is it tertiary education? That is suggested, here and there. It's been made a profession and you get in by qualifying. In those days, nurses were called; it was a vocation. Apart from the sex with doctors in the supplies cupboards on the prescription adrenalin, it was like being a nun.

That was before the war, of course, before the war between doctors and nurses had broken out. Now, the more they know the more resentful they've become.

And what a war it is – the bitterness on both sides is sectarian. And it's got worse rather than better now that everyone involved is more highly qualified. Knowledge does that to people. It makes them self-important – and, believe me, I know all about that.

It's not clear who's winning this Hippocratic battle. Doctors tread very carefully and express their feelings very guardedly and privately because they are heavily outnumbered.

The nurses feel patronised and insulted; the doctors feel sniped at and undermined by their professional inferiors. Education is always the answer, so we say, but the unintended consequences are very interesting to students of the perverse.

The nurses say: "What makes you think that seven extra years of schooling means you automatically know more than we do?" The doctors say: "Where you can make three diagnoses of a set of symptoms we can make 30. Go and wipe the bedsteads with antiseptic."

The nurses say: "You see that doctor with the red hair? He was rude to me in front of a patient. Make sure he doesn't sleep for a week." Then the doctors say things you can't put in a newspaper.

The fact is, I'm frightened of nurses. I'm a bit frightened of teachers, but nurses can hurt you as much as teachers used to be able to. They're in charge of your pain relief at night, for instance, and nights are very long when there's pain relief needed. First they don't come, and then they do come and they stick things into you. Then they pull the things out again. There is a very great variation in the way these things can be done.

They also know whether you've noted the fact that they are, by their own NHS way of measuring these things, morbidly obese. If this thought has inadvertently entered your mind, you will not be able to conceal it. It physically sticks out of your ears and they will react accordingly. "So, you think I'm fat? Don't you know I've got an NVQ in pain management? How about an epidural? No? Really?" (She leans in.) "You'll be asking me very nicely for one before the night is out."

"Take them! Take my Krispy Kremes! As many as you want!" But it does no good.

Maybe there are simply more active sadists in the profession now than before. We shall have to wait for the figures to come out in the census data.

My solution would be to create a new class of nurse below the professionals, the qualified ones, the ones with degrees. A new class of nice, sweet girls who'll wipe the bedsteads with some sort of germ killer, use little affectionate words in between our surnames, and make it their self-sacrificing vocation to soak up the hierarchical energies of the class above them – so the class above them stops taking it out on us patients.

This new level of nurses we'd know as "angels". I will dream on.

Until then – it's time for a doughnut.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'