What Is a Psychiatric Nurse Defined says: Psychiatric nursing or mental health nursing is the speciality of nursing that cares for people of all ages with mental illness or mental distress, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis, depression or dementia.
When people find out that you are a nurse they begin quizzing you for every ailment that they have from a sore toe to what kind of medication should they take. I have literally been in the grocery store and had someone take off their shoe to show me their toe nail that looked as if it had rotted last year and they had not pulled it off. I gasp – " Gosh..ugh…you need to see your podiatrist about that". Feet are not my specialty – yuk.
If you would like to talk about mental illness – now we have a conversation. I have been a mental health nurse for 21 years, That is my platform.
As a mental health nurse we become "Jack of all trades". When someone comes in to the hospital very sick and obviously they have not taken care of their own body. We have to assess and observe for them. We look at their skin for cuts, bruises and break down. We look at their feet for blisters, broken toes, toe nails that are to thick and to long. We look at their hair for bugs and hidden item twisted up in their matted long unclean hair.
As a mental health nurse we have vital signs to monitor after an over dose. We have post surgery care and dressings to change and clean after someone has sliced their arms, their own neck, stabbed their abdomen, recovering from being shot. Monitor bruises on their neck after an attempt to hang themselves.
The one thing I enjoy the most as a person, not just as a nurse, observing behaviors. After casually looking down a hallway for many years observing and monitoring for changes in their behavior. It has become second nature, and easier to see someone who has a shift in their behavior. How ever – not all behavior changes happen nor show on the outside, some are well hidden. They may simply just start tapping their foot lightly on the floor or running their hands through their hair, shifting in their seat to the point you can see the disconnect in their focus.
Like the gentleman who returned from a visit to a personal care home. Known as a PCH, which is a place for people who need help with their medications and meals but other wise can take care of themselves, they can live with in a community of people their age. I will call him Charles just to give him a name – As he stepped of the elevator with two security guards walking with him. I could tell by the stride in his step, and the way he was swinging his arms he was not doing well.
As he got closer, I spoke "Hello Mr Charles how are you." He looked up and smiled the most handsome smile, tipped his head forward in gentleman fashion and stated "Hello ma'am". He continued walking toward the next unit with his head dropped back down looking at the floor as he walked.
Now Charles has been in and out of the hospital for many years. In his younger years, when he was much stronger – he was very dangerous when he became upset. After working around him for a long period of time, I could tell by his slumped shoulders, arms swinging, quick long strides that covered allot of ground very quickly. His neck almost disappearing into his shoulders as they were pulled up close to his ears. Charles was not ok – on the inside.
After the guards left him with the staff he quickly began pacing the length of the hall way and actively responding to his internal activities. He would angrily speak to his left and curse to his right. He made direct eye contact to the ones he was speaking with. His eyes were focusing on what he saw … what ever that was.
After many trips back and forth he was offered a PRN (as needed medications) to help him calm down. He took the medication and thanked the staff then continued with the ranting to his visual hallucination.
When he came down the hall this time – he stopped and looked at poster on the wall of a young lady who was looking in the mirror putting on lips stick. He turned his head side ways and ask her "Who in the fuck do you think that you are a princess? You ain't no princess – your a whore – just another whore." He began screaming at her as if she had answered him. His hands began flying above his head and jumping straight up in the air drawing his knees 3 feet off the floor.
When he landed he performed a rap dance move – shook his head hard as if to make the voices stop talking to him. The more he shook his head the more angry he became. As the staff approached to speak with him he very quickly agreed to take what ever they offered to calm him down and make the voices in his head – shut the hell up.
He ran to his bedroom and slammed the door that jarred the concrete walls. He could not escape his body – he was trapped in a world that no one could enter.
I look at the injections he received as liquid that could enter his body and reach the voices to shut them down. Maybe for only an hour – maybe for two. It is only a short break from his inside world.
An hour pasted by and his walk became a slower pace. He walked in a gorilla posture with his shoulders drawn into this body, pacing slowly. He approached the door and I ask "How are you feeling." His blue eyes brighten, "I am better" he smiled a grin that was far away.
I don't know why or how he was given this life to live, nor do I understand how it really happens to the human body that it can become such an internal hell. All I know is, as one of the jack of all trades under this roof – for just a little while I can offer comfort.
The saying that goes: Until you have walked a mile in someone else shoes – fit so many of the people I have had the privilege to meet. I can not imagine and hope I never know how they feel from experience.
Angela Brooks has worked in a state-funded psychiatric hospital in Kentucky for 21 years as a nurse, assisting sometimes-dangerous patients who come in shackled and cuffed. At AngelaBrook.com, she offers stories of life on the inside of a psychiatric ward, and the site, as well as her company, offers support for nurses in the mental health field and helps them bring passion into their role at work.
On her BlogTalkRadio show, Mental Happiness with Angela Brooks, she shares some of her experiences “learning to love those others have forsaken” and gives tips on how to bring peace to your own life.
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* Please note: I am not here to CURE, DIAGNOSE, Treat or suggest replacements for what a doctor prescribes. The names used in this post are not the real names of the people being mentioned – I am sharing my nursing adventures with you.
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