Staff-patient relations in the modern hospital frequently border on the level of institutionalised insanity witnessed in the Stanford Prisoner Experiment. There exists a very fine line between being in the care of another and being in their custody. This power dynamic becomes obvious when those being cared for are adults of sound mind and body (albeit with broken bones and sliced off arses); as was the case for the six of us in the general surgery ward. It doesn’t matter what rules the boards of management make in hospitals, where there are sick people and people in distress there will be smoking. Locking the outer doors of the building will only drive people to smoke wherever access can be found to the outside – this happened to be where staff went to smoke (and, yes, staff members do smoke). One over-zealous security commando caught us (six adults smoking) and reported us to our ward. On our arrival back to our ward we were cut off at the pass by one shockingly enraged nurse who took it upon herself to dress us down like naughty children. Being myself, I asked her – politely – if she would not mind speaking to us as adults. At this the fun began.

Bernie, the Clinical Nursing Manager, was called to the ward to address the issue of me verbally abusing a nurse. Indeed?! What could I do but stand my ground? Bernie insisted that we were ‘drawing attention to ourselves.’ Six adults having a cigarette at half past ten at night were drawing attention to themselves? Certainly no more than the staff members who were out smoking in the same place. The complaint against me for asking to be treated with respect was one of verbal abuse. So I asked if I had the right to make a formal complaint. If it was against the rules to smoke anywhere on an HSE campus, then I would like to complain that staff were smoking in the hospital grounds and I had the pictures on my phone to prove it. Now the mood changed. This was at eleven o’clock in the evening. Bernie said that she would make sure that I had the proper documentation for making a formal complaint, and I thanked her. At half past three in the morning – in what can only be described as an attempt at psychological warfare – Bernie tore open my curtain and handed me a brown envelope with the details I needed. Power and pettiness are self-contradictory.

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