OPINION. The week running from 10th May was recognised World Over as International nurses week and Uganda Nurses and Midwives Union chose to award Ms Doris Okudinia of Ediofe health centre III, as the nurse of the year.
I have followed the story of Doris Okudinia since the day it crashed the internet till on Tuesday (12/5/2020) when she was awarded the nurse of the year award by Uganda nurses and midwives union (UNMU).
As someone who has lived in Arua and who particularly knows well the terrain from Ediofe to Arua Regional Referral Hospital, I shuddered at the fact that someone volunteered to push a wheel chair across a sloppy valley and climb the hilly road to Arua RRH. Personally, I guess I wasn't going to do it. First of all, I struggle to do simple nursing chores like damp dusting, which every nurse knows is the first and most important thing taught in a nursing school (at least during our days). Now imagine that hell of pushing a patient over an approximately 2.5km sloppy and hilly road.
Indeed nursing is a calling!
Lately, I have given thought to what nursing actually is; mainly because you barely recognise what we are taught in school being barely practiced.
You go to the rural settings and no one wants to be called a nurse especially the male counterparts because society attaches nursing to females that it bruises our ego to be called so. Hence every health worker is called a doctor and then they feel good about it (of course at the expense of their conscience). Like the proverbial story of the bat being neither a bird nor an animal, the nurse has been reduced to what I may call as an Assistant clinical something; lying somewhere between a nurse and a clinical officer. And for those familiar with the story of that proverbial bat, it didn't end that very well for the bat.
Nursing is a profession of its own. It’s not medicine or surgery. It’s not clinical officering (not sure if there is anything like that) and it’s not just wound dressing or giving an injection.
World Health Organisation defines nursing as; "Nursing encompasses autonomous (acting in accordance with one's moral duty rather than one's desires) and collaborative care of individuals of all ages, families, groups and communities, sick or well and in all settings. It includes the promotion of health, the prevention of illness, and the care of ill , disabled and dying people."
And according to Florence Nightingale who is considered as the founder of nursing, the goal of nursing is “to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him”.
The calling to be a nurse is therefore one never to be taken lightly. It’s a profession that places the interests of others above self as a moral duty but not a choice (the choice is made as you join the profession). It seeks to place the patients in the best possible environment for healing to take place. This ranges from the nurse ensuring that there is optimal ventilation, warmth light, noise; Cleanliness of rooms/walls; beds and beddings; Personal cleanliness; offering hope, advice and food and carrying out observations (to inform the nurse on what state of the environment to adjust.) Lately this environment has gone on to encompass the internal environment of the body where if a patient has a fever, then a nurse does a simple tepid sponging to cool the body. Simple but profound. And it’s this observation that the environment of Ediofe HCIII wasn't the best for Okudinia's patient to heal that she felt the need to take action; an action which has placed her on the hall of fame of nurse outliers.
Nursing in essence is doing the simple things. Things which a patient would naturally do for him or herself if he or she were not incapacitated by disease or injury. Today, most of this has been left to the patient's attendants partly because the nurse to patient ratio is so high that it is practically impossible for the nurse to serve every patient under his or her care. Another could be the level of stress the nurse goes through to do his or her work mainly resulting from poor facilitation (salary) to resource constraints (delayed ambulance service is just one of the many) as well as lack of recognition of the importance of nursing.
Despite all the above, I might not also be surprised if the reason why many nurses do not personally help with patient's daily care is that many nurses might not actually understand what nursing is all about especially in a society where parents do the choosing of a career for their children and nursing is seen as a profession where you "never flop" (as in the employment mentality).
So, what are we to do with all the news about the actions of Okudinia Doris?!
For every nurse out there, I believe this should be a moment of reflection and perhaps an opportunity to rediscover the values and reasons entrenched in the simple derogatory actions we are required to undertake daily for the patient's good in this noble profession.
It should also be a moment to ignore the noise and nay sayers and those who ridicule the down to earth nature of our service and take pride in doing what many find themselves too important to do. It’s a moment to be proudly a nurse again.
This should also be a moment to open the discussion into the reality of the myriads of the challenges the nurse faces daily in trying to be a nurse. Many times, we end at the shorter end of the stick and in the health care setting, the voice of the nurse is muffled under the breath of the other professions. As the nurse seeks to rediscover him or herself, let the government do the same. Let the development partners in the health sector do the same and let everyone search for what they can contribute to make nursing and the general health sector a work environment worth envying not just for the comfort of the professionals but for the greater good of the persons under their care.
So to all my fellow nurses out there, next time you have the opportunity to make a patient's life more comfortable, remember it’s the right thing to do. And remember that's the essence of nursing. And remember nursing is the profession of the heart. Offering service which transcends the eyes that see and goes deep down to touch the very emotion and soul of the patient that he or she may be at peace under your care and enjoy a tranquility no one else could offer but you the nurse.
The writer is a practicing Registered Nurse, currently works with Medical Teams International at Palorinya HCIII in Obongi District