Walk into the nurses’ locker room on any floor of any hospital, and I promise – you will likely find more pairs of shoes than you would see in any athletic shoe store at the local mall. Most of us have more than one pair at work; some of us have several – and all of us have at times wondered how many hundreds of miles we have walked in each pair. I always know that particular back ache that comes when my favorite pair of “Rockport Sandy’s” have walked their last mile, and it’s time to slide my feet into a new pair. Just like Mr. Rogers, we leave them at work; we slip into them in the morning, and out of them in the evening.
Two more shifts, and I’ll be taking my old Rockport Sandy shoes down the hall to a new locker room, at a new job (also, an old job). I couldn’t help but remember that as I placed them on the shoe rack tonight when my shift had ended. I thought about how privileged I am to be an RN – that these shoes can literally take me to so many different places – with such a vast array of nursing opportunities and specialities from intensive care to the psychiatric ward, or hemodialysis, or maternity, or so many other different specialties to consider!
But tonight as I sit at the kitchen table and reflect on my day, I cannot help but think about where my shoes have taken me that no nursing school or instructor could ever have prepared me for. Maybe the reason it’s so difficult to give up that pair that fits just like slippers has more to do with where they’ve been than anything else.
Walking from room to room, passing medications, answering call lights, traveling to diagnostic tests with patients……. Yes, yes, of course our shoes take us to those places.
But now, as I reflect on my smelly old sneakers with only God knows how many miles – I think of the more meaningful places a pair of shoes will take a nurse.
Our nursing shoes walk us to lunch after holding a basin for a patient to vomit in. They walk us back and forth to the telephone to reach physicians in order to get appropriate medication orders for our patients who are suffering in pain, and diets changed so that they may finally eat after waiting long periods of time for tests. They escort us to family and physician meetings where a horribly frightening diagnosis with a not-so-promising prognosis is delivered.
Our nursing shoes keep us standing bedside in order to feed a blind patient, long enough that by the time they have enjoyed their last bite we can think of nothing else other than how lucky we are to have sight (and how badly we have to use the bathroom).
Those shoes keep us bedside listening to wives confess they are afraid to go home to an abusive husband, and they need us to help. Those shoes bring us to a sacred moment when a Holocaust survivor cries and tells you that he knows he needs to forgive his Nazi guards for torturing him. A nurse’s shoes will walk the halls with a patient after heart surgery, there for them to lean on if they tucker out and need to rest. They will walk you into a room to stop all life support and comfort a grieving wife of 65 years. Nursing shoes walk you into a room to bathe and shave a homeless man who smells of filth and alcohol and cigarettes. A nurse’s shoes will walk her into a room to participate in the delivery of a beautiful new baby one day, and into a room where a mom is holding on tightly to her baby who has just died of sudden infant death syndrome the following day.
Nursing shoes walk us into the most joyful moments worthy of celebration – the kind that make us so happy we chose nursing as a career. The kind of moments where you just wish you could call everyone you know and love and tell them about what an awesome day it was! And then our nursing shoes will walk us into the saddest, most lonely moments of someone else’s life while they face the possibility of dying. They walk us to the bathroom when we’ve waited almost too long, and to dinner when we have had nothing to eat for the last eight hours.
Our shoes take us into rooms where we learn that time is more valuable than stuff. They take us to rooms where we learn that if a Holocaust survivor can forgive the Nazi guards who tortured him, then we can forgive the family member who offended us. They walk us into rooms where we learn that credentials don’t define your worth, that having a lot of money doesn’t mean you are kind, and that people are more important than inheritances.
No wonder my dear friend Brynn calls her nursing shoes her “school shoes.” She says it best – that there isn’t a patient she has not learned something profoundly meaningful and life changing from!
I guess when you’re getting ready to move your shoes to a new locker room, you can’t help but ponder all the places your shoes have taken you in the unit you are leaving. Or to think about and appreciate each of the nurses whose shoes you’ve lined yours up next to over the years – the hundreds of miles you’ve walked together, as well as the laughs and the tears you’ve shared.
Our shoes aren’t pretty. In fact, they are often pretty rough looking. But do you know what? There’s no other pair of shoes I’d rather walk in, than a good comfortable pair of nursing shoes. Tonight, I LOVE being a nurse……