In the Livehealthy series, “My work,” we delve into how people deal with job stress. We do this anonymously so people can be totally honest about their experiences without fear of reprisal. For this piece, and to celebrate International Nurses’ Day, a psychiatric nurse at a government hospital in Bahrain recounts her experience to Georgie Bradley.
The work day for a nurse is never a straight eight hours. Something always come up, especially when you think you’ve finished everything for the day. Before the pandemic, we had a stable environment. But now, we have to be very flexible all the time.
At the moment, we are understaffed because we have to move from one ward to another to accommodate shortages due to the pandemic. Nurses who have either contracted Covid-19 or have been in contact with someone with Covid have to quarantine for two weeks. Annual leave is also being denied to staff nurses because of this issue. Even if you do somehow get approval for a holiday, you can be called back into the hospital at any time.
Even though we get tested every week, we don’t feel entirely safe at the hospital. There’s no guarantee we will not get the virus because so many people enter the hospital, whether they are medical students, cleaners, maintenance staff or doctors. We cannot control it 100 percent.
As a psychiatric nurse, I deal with two types of patients. First, the chronic patients who have stable symptoms and require regular monitoring and discussions. And second, the acute patients. These patients have sudden onsets of fresh signs and symptoms of their mental health condition. I am required to assess their state throughout the day. I am mandated to meet their basic needs, such as making sure they have food and drink available to them as well as digging into their behavior by talking it out – but every patient is different. Some do not talk at all. Many patients do not think they need any help. And a lot of the time, we encounter language barriers so we have to be creative when communicating with patients.
To be an effective psychiatric nurse, you need to be a good listener. It’s not just about speaking and passing information all the time. That can be overwhelming for the patient. It’s sitting and listening to the patient and their family to then give the right information in response to their specific needs. And you have to be very patient. You have to deal with so many types of unpredictable behavior, like stubbornness, aggressiveness, patients being mute and unresponsive – it’s all part of the nature of mental health conditions. Tolerance of this comes from expecting the unexpected.
Being a natural problem solver is key. If I want to manage any kind of issue with a psychiatric patient, I have to be a good manager, which means being a critical thinker, to link all the dots together and provide a strategy and solution.
The day-to-day running of tasks is one thing, but a long-term vision is also a requirement. You need to be able to strategize to improve the quality of care. It’s an evolving environment, which the pandemic has only made clearer.
The work is heavy. Managing an intense workload, which increases all the time, has to be expectated. As much as I try to stick with the rule of separating my personal and professional life, it’s not always possible.
Even though the nature of the job is emotionally draining, you have to be the pillar of reassurance for the patients. They are depending on you to lift them up. Even for the staff around you in the ward, you have to conduct yourself with a smile and sense of moving forward all the time.
Georgie Bradley is a British/Greek editor and journalist based in Dubai after being bred in Bahrain. She's been published by The Guardian UK, The Telegraph UK, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post UK, Buro 24/7 and Harper's Bazaar Arabia. Most recently she was the deputy editor of Emirates Woman. You're most likely to find her in the aisle seat.