I’ve wanted to be a nurse for as long as I can remember. Even when I was unsure about every other aspect about my life, I knew that I was destined to do something that would really help people. I truly believe that the best nurses are the ones who were born to become them. Some people are just wired with the natural instinct to take care of others, and I like to think that I am one of those people.
Becoming a nurse has changed my life in so many ways. The selfishness of my teenage years did not live long enough to accompany me into my early twenties, because there’s no room for selfishness in nursing. Even on my worst days I will still encounter patients with problems far bigger than my own; a fact that is both humbling and heartbreaking. I now understand the importance of checking my problems at the door, because my patients deserve to be the center of attention. They deserve a quality of care that is not subject to my own distraction. My life and all of its ensuing chaos will still be there waiting for me when my shift is over.
I’ve learned that patience really is a virtue. We are a generation that loves to live fast. We lean on our horns the minute the light turns green because we’re always in such a rush to get somewhere. Working with the elderly and people with chronic illnesses has taught me how to slow down. My patients can’t always move as quickly or as efficiently as I can, and they apologize for it frequently. It’s amazing what a positive effect you can have on a person just by giving them your time and attention. I know better than to sigh, or check my watch, or hurry them along with questions like “are you almost done?” Nobody deserves to feel like they are wasting someone’s time. I promise you can accomplish everything you need to do while still giving each of your patients your full attention. Time is a gift in both giving and receiving.
I’ve become someone who is equal parts soft hearted, hard edges, and thick skin.
I have a heart so big that it has become permanently attached to my sleeve. This is an important quality for a nurse, but it can also be a certain kind of weakness. When you work with sick people, you become more closely acquainted with death than anybody should ever be. My mom died when I was only fifteen, and in a way it has made me a better nurse because I can empathize with a patient’s loved ones in a way that most twenty-two-year-olds cannot.
I have developed the dark sense of humor that only people who encounter so much tragedy can understand. I’m not jaded or cold, I’m just getting by.
For me it all comes down to an ultimatum: laugh or cry. So I choose to laugh.
I’m still learning the art of self control and restraint. Like most 90’s babies, I was raised under the principle that you never initiate the fight, but you do what you have to do to end it. Nursing, quite obviously, does not work like that. While working with patients with dementia I have been kicked, punched, slapped, and insulted more times than I care to count. I’ve had water thrown in my face and I’ve had patients try to bite me. I have had to dig deep inside of myself on countless occasions for a level of restraint that I didn’t even know I possessed. When every instinct in me has yelled to fight back, I have been strong enough to remain calm. I don’t think people truly understand what a challenge that is until they’ve experienced it for themselves.
Nursing is so much more than needles, bandages, and antibiotics. It’s skipping your lunch break to hold the hand of a dying patient because her family never bothered to show up. It’s getting to know your patients’ families so well that they start sending you Christmas cards. It’s laughing your way through a baby’s first bath and encouraging new parents as they fumble to get it right. It’s knowing when to make a joke and start a conversation, and knowing when to be silent. It’s finding a balance between clinical practice and bedside manner. It’s advocating for your patients when they feel like their voice isn’t being heard.
Our paychecks may reflect a 40 hour work week, but rarely do our shifts begin and end when they’re supposed to. We don’t answer to a time clock, we answer to our patients. And sometimes that means an eight hour day becomes a twelve hour day, and a twelve hour day becomes a sixteen hour day. We work weekends and holidays. We work understaffed and underpaid. We work until our backs hurt and our feet ache. And we do it all with pride and a smile every damn day. Because we are nurses, and we love what we do.