I fervently believe that all jobs are hard, nobody really has it “easy;” we all get sick of our jobs. I speak on this point at an abnormal level for somebody my age. Whatever stress your career puts on you, it’s within human nature to minimize it to tolerability and then to despise it. This was one of the first facts I picked up when starting my fledgling career. A confirmation of one of my favorite truisms, “Everybody’s shit stinks.”
That said, I reserve a qualification for at least nurses. Maybe theirs smells a smidgen more.
As any partner should, I try to be there for her. If she chose a different profession, I have no doubt that I’d be fielding complaints about TPS reports, accounting errors, terrible students, whatever. I listen to her frustrations and her encouragements just as she does for me.
It is a rare week that I don’t hear about a situation that is heart-wrenchingly sad or simply inspirational.
It’s more than common for a person you worked with for weeks to just up and die on you in one 12-hour shift. A patient can go from laughing at 8:30pm to a belligerent silence at 6:00am. The hours between are whirlwinds of exhausted bodies, fierce hunger pains, and an utter and total lack of self. You’re now part of an elite team of experts working for one impossibly noble goal. Hunger, bodily fluids, emotions, all other concerns… they all fade.
Only to be snapped back to reality when you find yourself gingerly wiping the blood and sweat off your patients pale blue lips during postmortem care, just as your patient’s family sombers in for first of. . . so many last goodbyes. As you walk out of your patient’s room, it’s difficult to reconcile the sounds of gleeful morning birds chirping outside the window with the wet distilled chaos that still threatens to drip down your face. But, it’s time to stomach a Nutrigrain bar, and maybe a barely warm, yet still burnt cup of coffee. One point five hours to go.
After work, she will arrive with a timid smile, with only a hint of the slightest shake in her voice. It’s taken me years, but I can usually detect it. I’ve become her emotional Spectrogram. But I won’t know she had performed CPR in a cold lonely room on a woman she had considered “the sweetest little thing” just a few hours before. Not until she tells me. If she tells me.
Every week she humbles me with her work as an ICU Nurse. Every week she leaves me speechless in the most impossibly consistent manner. She provides me a window into a world that I had no conceptions of… really a world that none of us want to see, because when we see that world, it’s usually in the most unfortunate circumstances. And frankly, we’re not always in a place to appreciate what is going on.
I am constantly stunned with her empathy, her fortitude, her ability to adapt, her intelligence, and the sheer amount of human-will she brings into her work. Yet, throughout all of the joy and pain, she still comes home and compartmentalizes it, as if it was just another day at work. Like she has any other job. As if her bad day at work is the sum of my own. Then she goes back into work and focuses every bit of her self into a job that many, if not most of us, myself included, would surely fail at.
While I believe she is an uncommonly talented nurse, I happen to know she doesn’t feel that way. Her humble self-awareness only strengthens my opinion. I recognize my bias for her, but I also acknowledge that many of my friends and family in nursing share most, if not all of her traits. If there is another profession so engulfed by the flames of empathy and goodness, I can’t wait to discover it.
Our society has been inundated with loosely defined heroes; I personally have some rather politically fragile opinions about that. I do not want to conflate this topic with more socially abject statements, but trust me when I say I don’t use the word lightly. Hero. A great nurse is the very definition of a true hero.
These people are one of the last great stewards of humanity and are rarely treated as such. If you know a nurse, thank them now. Thank them for what they have done for us, and thank them for what they will do for us.