I’m a nurse, and…….
There are so many moments when I wonder why I do what I do. Why did I decide to become just a nurse?
Like, when my back hurts so bad that I’m not quite sure how I’ll make it to my car, and when I do – I’m thankful for the long drive home with the back and butt warmers on, even when it’s 90 degrees outside.
When I scroll through Instagram and see photos of extravagant business trips my friends take and fancy dinner photos with their clients, and I drive home in my MRSA-tainted scrubs and flip flops because I would NEVER let my work shoes hit the floor of my home – I wonder why I became just a nurse.
When my patient is unconscious and unable to interact with me despite all hopes that my interventions and family members’ prayers will make a difference – and they die. These are the days I often feel that being just a nurse is completely meaningless.
When I’ve fought to keep someone alive for 10 hours, and a family member comes to spend five minutes with their loved one, only to complain that there is dirt under his fingernails and she’d like to speak to my charge nurse about this – I feel bullied and defeated. Why do I do this? Why did I decide to become just a nurse?
There are days when I feel incredibly unappreciated. Like, when I’ve held the hand of my patient and listened to them cry and express their fears and regrets, but the family member visits for the first time in a week and complains that there is not enough vaseline on their loved one’s lips.
When my patient’s family members don’t want to listen to me because I’m just a nurse, so I find the doctor to repeat what I just told them, and then they remind me that they are all attorneys and will take me to court if their loved one dies – I wonder why they hold me responsible for their loved ones life. After all, I’m just a nurse.
There are days when I wonder why I continue to remain a nurse. There are days when working retail at the Vera Bradley store sounds far less stressful. But I can’t and I won’t do that, because as fun and exciting as I’m certain it would be – I remember Cassandra, who cared for me when my daughter died. She sat on my bed and she held my daughter and comforted me through the night she was born with no heartbeat. You guessed it – Cassandra was just a nurse.
Oh, and then there was the South African gal at the Detroit Medical Center with a really pretty accent who winked at my Dad when he was confused. His cancer had spread to his brain and he was disoriented and afraid. But she comforted him with a simple wink. I can’t remember her name, but yes, she too was just a nurse.
And then I think about my friend who works in Labor & Delivery, and her recent patient just had her 4th baby, but the first one who lived. She was with that Mom during the birth when she heard her first of four babies she’d delivered over the years actually cry at birth because the first three had died! Yes, my friend is also just a nurse.
When excruciatingly painful wounds are cleaned and re-dressed, it’s just a nurse who remembers to give pain medication first, and holds and comforts the patient while just another nurse does the work, encouraging them during the entire procedure that we’re almost done.
It’s just nurses who line the hallway, most of them in tears, to encourage the Mom & Dad, and wave goodbye to the not-yet-1-year-old who just endured four long months of chemotherapy and all of its complications and side effects.
When three 12-hour shifts in a row go by, and not one friend or family member comes to check on or visit their loved one, I’ll sit beside my patient and ask him to tell me about himself, and console him in his fear and loneliness, even though I’m just a nurse.
When friends suggest I start looking for a new job, one that would be easier on my back, I remember all of the “get to” opportunities I’d be giving up and walking away from if I decided to be more than “just” a nurse.
So I’ll take the sore feet, the aching back, the long shifts, holidays, and weekend shifts, and I’ll keep paying full price for my Vera Bradley bags and gladly hang that stethoscope around my neck. And when I have a bad day and feel like crying (or banging my head against the wall), I’ll go to Papa Joe’s and get enough sugar-coated gummy bears for all of us on the unit. And we’ll laugh, and we’ll cry, and we’ll keep on encouraging each other to be the best “just nurses” we can be. And together, we’ll remember what it means to be just a nurse.
We’ll keep on holding the hands of those suffering from cancer, listening to the stories of Holocaust survivors, caring for and encouraging addicts who are withdrawing from drugs and alcohol, and doing what we can to help soldiers suffering from PTSD after too many tours in the Middle East. And we’ll keep being honest with our patients and their families, even when they hate us for it.
We’ll remind each other that in no other line of work would we be able to step into those moments just a nurse can. Those moments when a patient embraces you and says they love you. Those moments when someone from a year ago returns to see the faces of just nurses who cared for her for months, in order to say thanks through her tears.
It’s my day off, and my back is killing me, but I’m thinking my day will likely not be nearly as meaningful as those who are at work today being just nurses. They are doing things just nurses can do.
Because, you know – not everyone gets to be just a nurse.
I’m glad I decided to become one!