Lessons from a nurse

Victoria is a Forensic Nurse Practitioner in Police custody, in other words, she is one of the many resident nurse, paramedics or doctors that can be found in a Police stations throughout the country. She deals with everybody that is arrested and brought into police custody, ensuring that clients are fit to be detained, fit to be interviewed, fit to be released. 

On a daily basis she deals with people who are  alcohol/drug dependent drink drivers, drug drivers, sudden deaths, rape suspects, mental health issues, street dwellers, county lines juniors who have may or may not swallowed drugs, some of the most vulnerable people in the population and as she says, “You name it, we deal with it. We have a duty of care to every person, and that never stops. We treat every patient in custody, as we would anybody else.”

“Right now, I’m seeing a trend of people who think that if they ‘suddenly develop’ symptoms of COVID-19, that they will avoid arrest – that we’ll just release them – but in fact they will be put in isolation, in a designated suite for COVID-19 patients, which doesn’t go down well with them.”

“Interestingly one of the biggest challenges I have is the Police themselves who get quite anxious when there is a suspected case of COVID-19 in the station. It completely and utterly changes the dynamics of the custody suite. This is no reflection on them as professionals but in a medical environment, I would be working alongside with my peers, who’d be quite calm and collected. But the Police aren’t used to this high risk healthcare issue going on so closely around them. In saying that, these frontline professionals have their own stressors and increased risk to themselves in society; it’s not unheard of for those arrested that claim to have COVID 19 to spit or cough directly in the face of these officers.”

Victoria in one of nearly 2 million healthcare professional is the UK who are driven by a passion, mission, purpose – call it what you will – to help and care for people. It’s a driving force that is almost palpable when she speaks. Their purpose is so clear, and so strong, that finding the mental toughness (confidence, commitment, determination, courage, focus) they need to do their jobs – to do the work they do, day in and day out – comes easily and naturally.

I asked how have things have changed for Victoria in the last couple of months, “We aren’t seeing so many of the drunken fights on a Saturday night, but we are seeing a significant increase in domestic violence. Drink/drug driving still continues and police custody remains open as normal. All people arrested are assessed for possible COVID symptoms before they enter police custody, to reduce the risk as much as possible.”

“The pressure I am under hasn’t changed much over the last couple of months – it remains the same as its been for the last 22 years! In saying that I acknowledge that those Healthcare workers in high risk areas, like AICU have some of the most pressure at this time. I have only had to wear the full PPE twice, and both times it’s been difficult to work in for a couple of hours, let alone a whole shift. I have full admiration and praise for these medics.”

As a profession we are always under pressure, and we get used to it, we adapt to it. I think we have mastered the art of stepping back from the stress and pressure, and just get on with our jobs. The end game is our purpose and it drives us all on. If you ask other nurses they will tell you that the same thing. It’s a job we love and we learn to put our own emotions aside. Mind you, nurses are very good are debriefing, chatting and supporting each other after their shift!”

“I do get anxious occasionally” admits Victoria, “but that’s usually when I am in a situation where I am awaiting paramedic support as I’m an autonomous practitioner. I would say the hardest part of my job when I was an acute nurse in hospital was simply the lack of time we have available  to chat with our patients about how they are. Their worlds have been turned upside down for them, by landing in custody or hospital. They want to talk, but we don’t have the time. That bit is heartbreaking.”

“Truth is, I find the stress of my own personal life, away from work, far harder to manage. It feels personal when I get home, my children are all my responsibility and we don’t get any training to be great mums, do we!”

Victoria’s advice to the rest of the world, is a reflection of something she remembers being told when she was in training over two decades ago;

“Step back and take stock of what it is that you’re worrying about. 

Ask yourself what is the worst case scenario?

What’s the likelihood of it happening?

How would that look if it happened? 

Establish whether you can do something about it? 

If there’s nothing that you can physically do about it, you just have to run with it, know that you have done your best or what was right at the time and see where it takes you.”

She acknowledges this is all easier said than done, but it seems nurses have learnt to view problems from a distance. They don’t let their emotions run riot. They lean on they training and experience. They ask when they don’t know. They admit fault when they mess up. There is much to learn from these overworked, underpaid heroes.

I hope the deep respect and adoration we have for healthcare professionals is lasting and profound. It is long overdue.

So it seems that some of the country’s lowest paid, most precious people, have a great deal to teach us about how to manage the stress, pressure and challenges they face daily. 

Victoria, I am humbled, thankful, grateful.

Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives


If you’re interested in developing your Mental Toughness, get in touch with Penny Mallory at [email protected]