EDITORIAL MONDAY 01.11.10.
Some years ago I was in hospital for some surgery. I was in a general ward with a range of other men, some of them considerably older, and some of them with quite serious conditions. In this environment it can be quite hard to ignore the prospect of our own mortality. My own condition was not supposed to be life threatening, but that doesn’t do anything to prevent an underlying sense of anxiety about the prospect of things not working out. Others in the ward may have had less to look forward to. On the whole, the nurses I have encountered have always been wonderful, caring, and above all professional people. But in this ward there was one nurse in particular who was special.
I don’t know her name, but I remember the impact that she had on her patients. She was only small, and relatively young. She spoke softly and gently, in a calm and soothing voice, leaving every patient with the sense of being not only cared for, but cared about. When she called the old blokes “sweetheart” it sounded reassuring and heartfelt, not at all in any way suggestive or inappropriate. Hers was a personal touch that is impossible to fake, and I believe that she really made a difference for some of those old men. But under the new professional ethics guidelines for nurses she might just be accused of flirting, and that is an accusation which could destroy her career.
While it’s obviously important to have proper professional standards, it is less clear just what is and is not flirting. Whether it is the warm reassurance given by this young nurse, or the playful repartee that can so often lighten the mood in an otherwise serious situation, there is the risk that a strict ban on flirting could see natural friendliness misinterpreted. Clearly, anything which is exploitative, abusive, or harmful to the dignity of either patients or the nurses who care for them is completely unacceptable. Clearly, cultivating personal relationships can place the professional relationship in jeopardy. But if we allow such rules to completely eradicate any sense of humanity from the unique relationship between patient and nurse, then we will have lost something very precious.
Besides, flirting with nurses is a time honoured tradition in hospitals around the world, and life would be a lot more dull without it.