Why the wobble room is a necessary sanity saver
It’s essential nurses have a space to think, cry and be fallible, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic
On 12 May, in honour of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday, I was supposed to go to Kew Gardens with a nursing friend.
We shared a flat in London when we were students and Kew was a short bike ride to sanity.
Time out is a necessity, not a luxury – particularly now
Whatever the season, the open space and the sheer greenness of it all was a respite from the pressures of our job. We couldn’t go this time, but we will one day when this crisis is over.
At last, it is being widely recognised that people who work on the front line of the NHS are likely to suffer from stress, especially in these extraordinary times, and need some respite every now and then.
Open space is not always practical, but time out is a necessity, not a luxury, even if it is only for five minutes. The establishment of so-called ‘wobble rooms’ in hospitals has come not a moment too soon – it’s so staff-friendly and sensible that I can’t believe it has been sanctioned.
Needing a bolt-hole is no sign of weakness. Nurses are facing an unprecedented risk to their own health and that of their families. Left behind at home there may be crying children, angry spouses and vulnerable parents.
Staff loos were the wobble rooms of yore
And then there are mistakes. We all make them, none of us always gets it right, especially when the response to this virus has meant that many have been professionally out of their comfort zone.
Sometimes events are so overwhelming they have to be processed mentally before you can return to the fray.
And that's not to mention the personal protective equipment – if you are lucky enough to have it. Exhausting to wear, it isolates the wearer from team mates and patients; no longer can you give or receive a reassuring smile or raise a quizzical eyebrow. The ways we communicate wordlessly, which we do all the time, are no longer possible. More stress, more strain.
‘To deem ourselves super-human is to store up trouble, so go to that wobble room and howl, if that’s what you need to do’
When I first started nursing, our wobble room was the staff loo. It was often occupied by some other poor student sobbing quietly, so I would make for the sluice instead, which probably processed more nurses’ tears than any other bodily fluid.
Displaying emotion was, in those days, strictly frowned upon. Apparently, it showed a flaw in our character, a weakness.
We were face-to-face with mortality and morbidity for the first time, never mind aggression from patients and colleagues, but we had to pull ourselves together quickly and wipe our weary eyes before anyone noticed.
Reject the myth: nurses are not super-human
There is a myth that has been prevalent among nurses for decades – that the buck stops with us; we have to be the strong ones and we hold it together for everyone else.
It’s a kind of pride, but it can turn around and bite you because, ultimately, it’s unhealthy.
We don’t have to perpetuate this piece of fiction. To deem ourselves super-human is to store up trouble, so go to that wobble room and howl, if that’s what you need to do.
All of you with your generous hearts, your aching feet, your fallibility, your tears, your humanity, thank you from the rest of us, who clap hands and bang saucepans and other useless things to show our deep gratitude.
Keep safe, beat the virus, stay sane.
Maybe one day, when this is all over, we’ll bump into each other at Kew.
Jane Bates is a retired nurse