Comment

Jane Bates: What ‘eating cake’ means to a loved one

Enquiring relatives are no longer given a bland brush-off by staff – and rightly so.
Jane Bates

Enquiring relatives are no longer given a bland brush-off by staff and rightly so

How is she? I enquired of the nurse on the ward.

Sitting up in bed eating a whopping great piece of chocolate cake, she replied.

That told me everything I needed to know; my relative was recovering from her operation and communing with confectionery in other words, behaving normally.

After hours of anxiety this cheered me up no end, and I thanked the nurse profusely. At a stressful time, this is what family and friends want to know. The medical ins and outs will come later.

Are they back safely from surgery? Are they conscious? Distressed, vomiting, in pain? Evidently not, on this occasion.

The nurses reply was so different from the bland, non-committal non-information hospitals dished out years ago. These stock replies were a running joke

...

Enquiring relatives are no longer given a bland brush-off by staff – and rightly so

‘How is she?’ I enquired of the nurse on the ward.

‘Sitting up in bed eating a whopping great piece of chocolate cake,’ she replied. 

That told me everything I needed to know; my relative was recovering from her operation and communing with confectionery – in other words, behaving normally.

After hours of anxiety this cheered me up no end, and I thanked the nurse profusely. At a stressful time, this is what family and friends want to know. The medical ins and outs will come later.

Are they back safely from surgery? Are they conscious? Distressed, vomiting, in pain? Evidently not, on this occasion. 

The nurse’s reply was so different from the bland, non-committal non-information hospitals dished out years ago. These stock replies were a running joke in our family, with a dismissive ‘comfortable’ the standard answer to just about any enquiry.

Another classic from yesteryear was ‘as well as can be expected under the circumstances’, which told the poor relative at home, chewing their nails and twisting their handkerchief, absolutely nothing. 

The patient could have died last week or be swinging from the light fittings and that anodyne statement would still be accurate. The way ward staff kept patient information under wraps would have warmed the cockles of data guardian Dame Fiona Caldicott’s heart. 

I like this new world in which relatives are not treated as an irrelevance, but spoken to kindly in a meaningful way.

Good on that nurse. May she have all the chocolate cake she wants and never put on an ounce of weight.


About the author

Jane Bates

Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire 

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