We are accustomed to hearing many negative things about our medical practitioners in the public health system, our nurses, but I have a different story.
I come to praise our nurses, not to criticise and crucify them. As many know, I was recently involved in a very serious car accident. I was taken to the Port of Spain General Hospital, where I had treatment and rehabilitative care. My surgery was, from all accounts, very successful. Being a UWI person, I am familiar with our standards and so I fully expected to receive excellent treatment from the doctors, most of whom are our UWI graduates. Further, it is only in the public health hospital that you have all of the top medical consultants/doctors in one place, many of whom also work individually in private hospitals. However, as it was the first time I had been treated in a T&T public hospital, and given the bad press, I did not know what to expect in terms of ward care and nursing. I should not have worried.
I have had surgery and treatment from hospitals all over the world—the US, UK, Europe, Cuba, etc—and I want to proclaim that the care I received here was excellent, certainly on par. I was both in the ICU and in the High Dependency Unit (HDU). Before some of you say that it is because I am known, etc, I can testify that while I was compromised physically, I was fully awake and alert throughout, and so I observed that every other person in my wards received the same good treatment. In fact, I was so reassured that I chose to stay at the POSGH until I was stable.
I also had the opportunity to listen to our hard-working nurses and nursing assistants. The ones I met were dedicated, caring, hard-working and well trained. They are smart and resourceful. They wanted the very best for their patients. I listened to their worries and dreams. Many wanted to do more. One nurse, who had 13 years’ experience, wanted to go back to school to do psychology, so that she could work with terminally ill cancer patients. She had worked with them as a nurse offering physical treatment and realised that there were few resources to comfort and counsel such persons in T&T. What compassion! Others had ideas about how to improve our health system.
These nursing professionals are giving their best in the most challenging circumstances.
Apart from the perennial shortage of resources, they have to persevere with extraordinary challenges like Covid-19 and natural disasters. For example, the 2018 earthquake devastated the new HDU space which was designed to accommodate ten patients, providing prime care. They were forced to move to a corner of the hospital, with inadequate facilities. There is no toilet nearby, so our nurses must trod along at all hours of the night and day to a different section to use toilet facilities.
This is not only difficult for them as employees, but also compromises the Unit since HDU must maintain a high patient-nurse ratio. In the time it takes to get there and back, there is one fewer pair of eyes and hands to provide care.
I was there when nursing staff tested positive for Covid-19 in the health system, causing panic. Yet, they continue along to ensure that the public health system does not collapse, despite their fears and worries. Many work without job security.
I do not wish to trivialise the complaints citizens have about our healthcare system. Indeed, there are many issues to resolve. But we should be able to divorce the structural issues from the medical professionals who work in these systems, many of whom are simply doing their best in not-so-good situations. I hope the State can do more to give them the tools they need, but I also wish that we, the public, would be more understanding and appreciative.
I left the POSGH with a profound sense of gratitude and admiration for Head Nurse Ria and her team from HDU, and those I met in the ICU.
Thank you to all of our nursing professionals. Thank you to my surgeon, Dr Narine, and his excellent team. Thank you also to the literally thousands of well-wishers for their prayers and positive vibes. This was a life-changing experience in more ways than one, and I/we are blessed.
Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine
is Dean, Faculty of Law, The UWI