College years

The next three years at Lusaka School of Nursing proved to be the most educative and most enjoyable years of my life. Those were the years that moulded me into the person that I am today, years that changed my heart of stone into a heart of flesh.
After that week of trial placements, we went back to the wards two weeks later for six weeks, and this time not only for two hours a day but for the entire eight hour shifts, Monday to Friday. As the saying goes, first impressions are vivid, my first experience on the ward affected me so strongly and it somehow had control over me. It always made me to ask myself if I was cut out to be a nurse. Each time I did a procedure that involved making beds, I felt like those unseen linen particles that float around when you shake linen were going straight into my mouth. That made saliva to collect in my mouth, but thank God it didn’t always end up in being sick. If I had to become a nurse, I had to find a way out of that bad habit and I did. I started carrying sweets in my pockets at all times and every time I went near to a bed, I put a sweet in my mouth to suck on to prevent saliva from collecting in my mouth. That seemed to help a great deal. The other thing was for me to keep saying to myself, ‘that could have been me in that bed and I wouldn’t want people not to be able to speak because they have saliva in their mouths when they come near to my bed.’ That broke the habit though it took some time. To date, sweets are my secret, and I do just fine.
Lesson learned, you can break any bad habit in your life if you really want to. It’s all just in your mind and you can’t allow circumstances to control your life. There is a way out of every situation.
I began to learn new things. We spent most of the time on the ward with the clinical tutor practising the procedures we learned in class. We took turns to demonstrate how things were done and the clinical tutor corrected us when we made mistakes. Some days, the clinical tutor was not there and we worked with the nurses on the wards who were too busy for us.
It was on one of such days that I had another experience. The nurse I was working with was allocated to work on the acute bay, the bay with very ill patients needing close observations, facing the nurse’s station. The nurse asked me to do a Urinalysis on one of the patients which I did. I was at the patient’s bed side charting the results in the patient’s folder when the patient on the next bed had a cardiac arrest. The relative who was on the bed side started to cry. I turned to look at the patient. He lay there lifeless and I saw nurses coming running to that bed because they heard the relative scream. I had never seen a dead person before and fear gripped me. I didn’t want to see that, so I ran to my hiding place, the sluice room. I was peeping through the door and I saw everyone running around panicking trying to resuscitate the man. I just took my apron off and headed for the hostels. I didn’t go back to the ward that day. I faked illness. This time , I didn’t pack, I just went to sleep so I could forget about that. When my friends came back to the hostels, I narrated to them what I had experienced and they laughed at me. They told me that it was an every day experience for them. Ennie and Cathie’s placement was on a medical ward and there “people die every day and we’re getting used to that now,” they said. “We’ve even gone with the nurses and the porters to the mortuary to take bodies and we’ve even seen them open those massive fridges and seen other dead bodies. Next time there is a death on your ward, you go with the nurses to the morgue, then you will stop being scared,” they encouraged me. I yelled at them to stop telling me that because I felt like I was watching ‘Arm Chair Thriller,’ a horror movie that I loved watching with half of my face covered years back when I was a kid. That night I could not go to the toilet because I thought I might meet that man who had died. The following day, I went and bought a potty for myself and since that day, I never went to the toilet alone at night, unless I was with someone.

I followed my friends’ advice and the next time there was a death on the ward, I braved it and kept asking myself what I was afraid of. I could not give myself an answer. ‘If there is nothing you are afraid of, go with the nurse and the porter down to the basement,’ I told myself, which I did and later regretted, having gone there. When we got down to the basement, I started shaking like someone having rigors. The nurse asked me if I was okay and I told her I was scared. She told me to then remain at the front room and enter the deceased person’s details in the register while they took the body inside to the fridge. They left me there and it felt so spooky down there. I had to carry the book to the inner room where the nurse and the porter were. I told the nurse I could not remain there by myself as I was scared something might grab me. I stood there with the big book in my hands shaking like a leaf on a tree on a very windy day. As they opened those massive fridge doors, I took a glimpse of those bodies in there and I became panicky. I covered my face and turned to face the opposite direction and my heart and thoughts were racing, ‘what if one of them comes out of there and grabs me by my neck?’ I put the book on the floor and started to run out, feeling cold and hot at the same time. I was so frightened and confused. The nurse that I had gone with became so worried about me but she could not leave as she had to stick a death card on the fridge door. “Wait for me, I’m almost done, we will be out of here.” she said hurriedly. She checked the book in which I hadn’t written a thing and she entered the details of the deceased, and we left. Those few minutes we were down there were like eternity. The nurse walked with me back to the ward and we went straight to the ward office where she gave me a glass of water. She sounded so worried when she said, “When you feel better, you go home. I will speak to the sister in charge and your clinical instructor.”
I left the ward and went straight to bed. I missed home. I missed my father the most because I remembered the time he said to me, “you should just go for teaching because you like writing and reading a lot. Your mother dropped out of nursing and you won’t make it.” I should have listened to him. An elderly person can miss hitting his target with a stone, but not with his words. And I thought I was going to prove him wrong.
I cried myself off to sleep that afternoon. and I told myself it was the end of my road in nursing. It wasn’t. My two brave friends, Cathy and Ennie came and shook me out of it, “you will be fine. You just need time to get used to all this,” they reassured me.
Lesson learned, Fear of the unknown can paralyse you and stop you from reasoning. But one good thing is, nothing happens for fun. There is a lesson in everything. Whatever we go through in life is meant to shape us into the person we were meant to be. There are many different ways one can take to reach their destination. Which ever route you take, don’t miss the details on the way. Listen to the announcements. Write them down if you should because you will need them when you arrive. Life is an adventure.
That experience taught me to understand my patients and their loved ones who are fearful, and when you ask them what their fears are, at times, the answer is, “we don’t know.” I know that you can be afraid and not know exactly what it is you are afraid of. When you dig deeper, you find that dying is at the root of that fear, and the subject of it is not just welcome. Dying is one subject that many of us never ever bring up though we know that death is inevitable. My panic attacks were caused by my own fear of death. Seeing a dead person was just a trigger. Hiding behind the story of ghosts, it was my own mortality I was scared to face. It was one issue I had never faced up to that point. I thought that whenever a person died, they became a ghost and ghosts only tormented the living until they also died. And I was not ready to die. That was just a belief I had formed from watching horror movies as a kid. They didn’t do me any good. So I had to change my thinking in order to be able to work in the hospital. Whatever you feed your mind with, it believes and it affects your behaviour. So feed your mind with what is good and profitable.
Fear of death? Not anymore! I now know that death is the passage into eternity and I’ll only pass on when my purpose is fulfilled. I want to go empty and leave all the treasures in me here on earth and not carry them to the grave yard where they‘ll be of no use. And I can’t carry them over to eternity. There’s so much more for me on the other side! Like apostle Paul said, “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21, NIV, 2004).

Photo by Prateek Katyal on
Photo by Pixabay on

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: