Back in 1980 I ended up in Dundee on an Outward Bound course with a cross-section of c50 other young people. On this course we didn’t climb mountains or ford rivers, instead over three weeks, we faced some of the very real challenges that exist hidden in our communities. I experienced 4 placements including: intermediate treatment (pre-borstal): a psychogeriatric ward; decorating the home of an MS sufferer; and most dauntingly- a ward with about 25 patients where the highest mental age was c18 months.
On this ward on a morning shift all I had to do was take off patients’ wet or soiled clothes, clean, wash, feed and dress them. I could just about cope with this but the smell of the mass produced scrambled egg was nearly my tipping point.
It took me about 50 minutes to look after one patient. During which time a male nurse cared for 4 or 5 patients. I thought he seemed a bit rough and abrupt with them. However, later on I saw he had not only quickly met their basic needs but created time to then spend with them. I humbly watched him very gently engage with the patients and saw them positively respond to him. My “caring” approach simply left many of the patients wet, smelly and hungry.
I learnt an invaluable lesson: don’t try to be nice, address the fundamental needs first, then you create the time and space to properly engage with people. However, I still hate scrambled eggs!