Frontlines / Christians at Work: “The Nurse”

Solas: Today I’m speaking to Georgie Coster, who is a nurse at Stoke Hospital. Welcome Georgie, how are you? Tell us what field of nursing you are in?

Georgie: Hi! I’m well thankyou! I’m a Staff Nurse in the emergency surgery ward, although during 2020 we were converted into a Covid ward. Now though we are back working in emergency surgery. In 2021, I’ll be moving over to intensive Care nursing.

Solas: And what was it like running the Covid ward?

Georgie: There are no words to describe how busy it’s been! We’ve been in the top-ten of worst number of cases and admissions, so it’s been pretty hard.

Solas: What are your main roles and responsibilities?

Georgie: in emergency Surgery, we take patients who have come in through A&E, we don’t do any elective (planned) procedures, we are constantly responding to emergency situations. We receive the patients from A&E and look after them until they go into the operating theatre. Then we receive them back from theatre and nurse them through their recovery through until they are ready to be discharged from the hospital. Of course, some patients don’t actually require surgery, others don’t make it as far as surgery – there’s a huge variety. My role as a nurse is to manage every aspect of their care; continence, eating, drinking, personal hygiene, oral care, preventing pressure sores, administering all medications (orally or injections) including managing pain relief. We put in and remove catheters, take cannulas in and out, do blood-transfusions, administer IV fluids (known as putting up a drip), we take blood, monitor blood-pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, temperature, and then we liaise with relative of the patients. Communication with families is important, as is communicating with Drs, in terms of everyone knowing what is going on with a particular patient and how we are going to treat them. Often the patient has lots of questions, which they won’t ask the Dr – but they will ask us, so communication with both Drs and patients is really important. The nurse is also the patient’s advocate within the system. Then we liaise with physios, pharmacists, social care workers, and then at patient discharge we make sure they are going to a suitable place, whether it’s home, a care home or respite etc, and that District Nurses are informed if there is ongoing wound care needed. Then we are also involved in training student nurses as well. No two days are the same!

Solas: Which parts of the job do you enjoy the most? What gives you job satisfaction in all of that?

Georgie:  What has always attracted me to the job is being there for patients at their most vulnerable moments. Even a 92-year old lying in a bed looking very frail and vulnerable was at one time a banker, or a business manager or a very capable, independent man or woman. Or I am faced with 18 year old who has had a car crash and can’t do things for themselves as they used to do – as a nurse I am able to step into their situation and do things for them, that they can no longer do. I love being able to be there – when people need you the most. There’s great satisfaction in seeing patients get better too. That’s not always the case obviously, but there are those moments when you’ve worked really, really hard to turn somebody around and you see them walking out of the door well – you can’t beat that!

Solas: So in all that frenetic multi-tasking work you’ve described, what challenges do you face and how does your faith in Christ help you to navigate those? What difference does your faith make in how you go about your job?

Georgie: There can be something therapeutic about knowing that you don’t have to have everything all together. In nursing there can be a real ‘ego-culture’ and ‘blame-culture’ is massive too in the NHS in general but particularly in nursing. That comes as a bit of a surprise when you are young and come into nursing expecting nurses to be the most compassionate people on earth, yet find them being so absolutely horrible to each other. Part of the reason for that is that if you “throw somebody else under the bus” you automatically clear your own name. or you feel better about yourself by pointing out other people’s failures. There is an awful lot of pressure to be the best nurse – being the most competent or compassionate turns into a competition. But sometimes you wake up and feel totally inadequate for the day ahead, especially if you haven’t had much sleep, and you don’t think that anybody’s life should be in your hands. It’s such a relief for me to know that I’m not dependent on my own great nursing abilities, or compassionate nature, because there are days when that’s non-existent. But in those times I can look to God, because He’s the one I’m relying on! Because if there is any gift in me, of patience or compassion or kindness or skill; then He gave it to me anyway! So the whole need to continually prove yourself or fuel your ego melts away. And I find that so comforting. I don’t need to go into work to impress Drs, managers, or get the most nominations from patients; because for me work is an act of worship to God. So God gives me everything I need. When my compassion runs dry, He’s got an endless supply! So when I am really struggling to love a person I can say to God, “I know you love them and so please give me some of that love for them because I have not got any.” So there is something so good about being able to  hold your hands up and say, “actually I am so rubbish but actually God, you are able to give me everything I need to do a good job”. It’s a big relief!

Solas: Do colleagues know you’re a Christian – how do they react when they find out?

Georgie: Everyone I work with knows I’m a Christian, but I haven’t faced any hostility. My ward manager, he’s married to a man – which has led to some interesting conversations; but he’s never ever once shown any animosity; he’s always just said that he respects my beliefs. I’ve been really blessed that nobody had ever expressed any anger towards me because of my faith. Now people have expressed their anger towards God, when conversations at 4AM on the night-shift come up, and people ask how God could allow suffering. People have expressed their anger at God to me; but no one has expressed anger at me personally.

Solas: So have you ever had opportunities to share anything of your faith with people that you work with? If so, what’s helped those conversations? Did you set out deliberately to have conversations, or is it something that just happened spontaneously?

Georgie: A key to having an opportunity to share your faith is this. We probably, as Christians, get into a routine of travelling into work and praying, “Oh Lord, please give me an opportunity to speak about you today”, and maybe that is drilled into us. But often my lips have been saying “give me an opportunity to speak about you” but my heart has been saying “She doesn’t mean what she’s saying, don’t listen to her, please don’t answer this prayer!!” But there have been other days when I have really genuinely prayed, really genuinely wanting to talk about The Lord that day. And it’s been on those days when my heart has matched my lips when I’ve prayed – that I’ve always, always been presented with an opportunity on a plate to speak about my faith. Someone will say, “So, what do you believe about…..” It just happens, the opportunity is given to me, and I don’t have to work for it. A massive part of our evangelism is about having a heart that wants to, rather than a heart that knows it ought to but would rather not. What The Lord wants is a heart that wants to talk about Him, that is not ashamed of him. When he sees that that is there, I think He delights to give us an opportunity. There have been times when I have not really wanted to talk about Him, and felt embarrassed or too busy to have a conversation about faith; and opportunities have still come, but by far the best conversations I have had are when I have prayed sincerely on the way in; and then ended up having some really, really deep conversations with people. That’s especially the case on night-shift that has to be said. There is something spiritual which happens in the heart of a man or woman at 4AM – and all life’s deepest questions come to the surface; it’s when the deepest conversations occur.

When people first get to meet you and realise that you’re a Christian, they try and work out if you are a ‘private-Christian’, or one who is open to talking about these things. I’ve had people say to me, “I really hope you don’t mind me asking this, and I don’t mean any offence by this but…. Do you believe the Bible?”(or whatever their question is). They often tiptoe into the conversation, apologizing in case I’m offended by their question! As soon as you make it plain that you actually love talking about this, and that no one could ever offend you by bringing up matters of faith in conversation, then people know that you’re up for a chat about it – then they become more open. They need to know they can speak their mind to you, and you’re not going to go and cry in the corner, then people enjoy asking questions and talking about deeper things.

Solas: Presumably though those conversations don’t come completely out of the blue, there must be some foundation of trust, relationship with you?

Georgie: In our job we build that very quickly. We are quite literally wiping people’s bums together – and we do develop a close rapport really quickly. We resuscitate human being together, we grieve together when a patient we’ve worked with dies, and that creates a bond which perhaps you wouldn’t get in some office jobs when you are working at separate desks. So in that way the soil gets ‘worked’ and relationships formed at quite a deep level. You can’t do the job without developing a high level of trust in colleagues, and again that makes a good foundation for meaningful conversation.

Solas: So when you have spoken about your faith, have people brought up questions and objections? What sort of things have they said?

Georgie: A lot of the responses are suffering related. We so much suffering in our context that that is a big question. Many people think, “How can God be real, if he allows that?” – or if He’s real, He’s not good. So that’s huge. Everytime we see a patient in pain, or at the end of their life – then that question is there, especially when someone dies young.

Solas: And how do you respond to such a huge question, if you only have five minutes in a coffee break?

Georgie: I usually say to people we have to go back to Genesis, right back to the beginning. I try to explain to people that God made the world, and it was originally ‘good’ – not like it is now. It was originally perfect, and He could have kept it perfect, but that would have meant reducing us to robots – but He didn’t want robots who were always programmed to make the right choices and worship Him. He didn’t want people only one setting (the “worship God and live for him” setting), He wanted real relationship. He wanted to create a people who would really love Him and chose to have genuine and authentic relationship with Him. And so the consequences of the fact that we have choice, means sadly that we have messed the world up. Then, sometimes on night shift, you get more detailed discussions. During lockdown, one of my colleagues found things really difficult, and this was her big question. I was able to lend her several good Christian books on the subject and she read and read and then came to discuss them with me. A good book can be helpful, because it can give people a lot more than you can in the few minutes you might have to say something.

Solas: You talked about praying for opportunities to speak about Jesus at work; what motivates you to want to do that?

Georgie: Knowing that Jesus is my only hope in this life and In eternity. He is the only way to the Father, there is no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved, and I care about the eternity of my colleagues. In recent months I’ve also realised more and more that Jesus is also the only hope for life here and now too. I don’t know how I would have got through this year without a solid, stable, steady hope which is like an anchor and a rock! The world has gone mad! And that motivates me all the more, because I think “If they just knew Jesus they would have such hope.” He can bring peace to their chaos and anxieties. He is someone they can trust, who is dependable and will never change or let them down. I have this hope – and I so badly want that for others too.

Solas: What advice would give a young Christian starting in your job who wants to be faithful to Christ there?

Georgie: Well, one biggest thing I have learnt is that when I first qualified I had this sacred-secular divide. I saw work as an interruption to my worship of God. I ran the church youth ministry then, and if I had to work on a Friday-night and miss the youth group, then I would resent the inconvenience.  I thought that coming to work was interrupting my life of service to God! So work became like this big, bad enemy which kept me from worship and service and God’s glory! But actually, what I’ve learned is that work is worship, and I can serve and glorify God in youthwork on a Friday night, and equally on a night-shift; when everyone is bad-mouthing a patient or colleague and I take things in a more helpful direction. Or if no one is giving a patient a drink, and I can bring them what they need. It’s not explicit evangelism or church-work, but it is ministry when you do it with a heart that wants to please God. So I’d say that nursing is an interruption to your church-life, but don’t let it become and interruption to your worship. Everything you do for a patient can offered as worship to God, or for a relative. Every extra hour you spend at work when your shift is actually over can be worship. God doesn’t only reward us for our evangelism – but also “you were hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink” as well. Nursing is not easy, it is a costly life which will demand from you a lot of patience, effort and compassion. You will get tired, and go home late and miss weekends. But that costly offering can be given as a sacrifice of praise to God – and it is worth it.

Solas: That’s a great note to end on – thankyou so much!

Georgie: Pleasure!