Thursday, May 11, 2017

What Being a Nurse Means to Me

It's National Nurses Week. I've been a nurse for eight years now, and I can say confidently that it's something that I feel like I was put on this Earth to do. With that said, I thought I'd share what being a nurse means to me.

 It means I have the unique ability to sense your needs and the follow-through to get them met. Many of these are simple: I notice that you seem down. Your room is dark, and I suggest opening up the blinds to let the light come in. Or, your neck can't be comfortable in that position. Let's add some more pillows and see if that helps.
 It means giving medications that can treat diseases and illnesses, take away pain, or even sustain life. I take that seriously.
 It means holding your hand after you've heard bad news and just listening. Gosh, I reply, life can be so unfair.
 It means doing a lot of dirty work. But reminding you time and time again that it is really no big deal (and it really isn't).

 It means going above and beyond to ensure that your dignity is intact as long as you're living.
It means washing your hair over the sink and trying my best to style it. I was not put on this Earth to be a hair stylist.
It means painting your toenails so you feel a little more like yourself. I was also not meant to be an esthetician.
It means bringing you a box of ice cream sandwiches because you love them and that's the only food you can possibly stomach at this point.
It means bringing you entertainment magazines and nodding in agreement when you state that Jennifer Aniston "has a smokin' hot bod."
It means swapping stories about our children. And listening to your sage advice about raising them right.
It means treasuring the advice you share about making a marriage work. You should know; you've been married 65 years!
It means calling the doctor when I think another medication might work better for you.
It means knowing the doctor I'm calling is not known for his friendly demeanor but calling anyway.

It means taking a deep breath and praying for a brave face before walking into your room. You're my age, 36, and you're a mom too. You're living with terminal cancer. Why, I wonder? Why you and not me? Why am I the lucky one?
It means advocating for my patients. And then the feeling of someone listening and agreeing with me, the nurse, is priceless. I've just made a positive change for my patient, and there's not much better.
It means holding hands with your family and singing a hymn, watching you as you take your last breath on this Earth. The fact that your family trusted me with that moment was an honor.
It means hugging your family so tightly afterward, as tears stream down our faces.
It means holding you accountable. "Mr. Smith, you're diabetic. Do you really think that box of donuts is a good idea?" Or, "Mr. Smith, no you can't smoke while wearing oxygen."
It means preparing your body for family after you have died. The weight of this is not lost on me.
It means long talks in the hallway with your spouse or children, away from you, as they question their decisions and ask "What would you do?"

It's trying my hardest to help each patient find that glimmer of hope.

It means many times smiling politely and gritting my teeth when you say something that I disagree with: "Donald Trump is the best president we've ever had," you declared. Wow, that took a lot of self control on my part!
It means you yelling at me, telling me to get out of your room because your brain tumor has caused you so much confusion that you were convinced that I was keeping your pain medication from you. That broke my heart, but I also knew that the words weren't really from you.
It means tears of joy when you get good news! Oh how precious these moments are.
It means helping you pack up your room as you get to return home after a long hospital stay. And reminding you of the items you can take with you. FYI friends, water jugs from hospitals are the absolute best. I still use mine!
It means meeting you and your family in the hall, after you've arrived on a flight from out of state. You'd sought treatment in one of the nation's best cancer hospitals, and you were just told there was nothing left to do. You were returning here for comfort care, and the reality of the situation weighed heavily on us all.

It means running into your daughter in the grocery store, years after you'd died, tears filling my eyes as we talked about you.
It means talking to you about NASCAR and pretending to be very interested, because it was something that you loved.
It means removing the clock from your wall. You were dying, and watching the clock made you anxious. The seconds ticking away was too much.
It means teaching you how to take your medications once you get home.
It means helping you walk in the hall so you don't lose your strength.
It means shaving your head so you can lose your hair on your terms. Not cancer's.
It means decorating your room with artwork from your children.
It means putting a "No Visitors" sign on your door so you can get some rest. And so I can be the bad guy, not you.
It means scrolling through the TV stations for nearly 10 minutes so we can find something that cheers you up. Usually Westerns do the trick.
It means wheeling you downstairs for a bit so you can feel the fresh air against your skin.
It means keeping your secret that you still smoke. Is there really a need for your children to know? Nah.
It means asking about your daughter who died as a child. And seeing your face light up as you talk about her and remember her short but precious life. You thanked me after that exchange, for asking questions about her. That was a life moment for me because it made me realize that we all too often avoid the elephant in the room. You told me, "Most people don't ask about her anymore," and then you told me how much it meant to share her stories.
It means a big hug at the end of the day, thanking you for letting me take care of you.
It means bodily fluids on our scrubs many days.
It means stripping down in the garage at the end of a long day for fear of what germs you might bring inside.
It means lunch on the go on a busy day. Yes, crackers and a Diet Coke will suffice!
It means listening to you vent. I have learned that listening is the cure to so much. I don't have to fix everything, nor do I have the power, but listening to you helps a little...and sometimes a lot.

It means smiling politely when your family shows up, hiding my anger that they haven't been here to visit, and you've been alone in your room, days on end, lonely to the core.

It means trying to unclog your NG tube and failing miserably. And you joking that I must have missed that day in nursing school. That tickled us both.

It means bringing you another Gatorade, even though I knew you had nearly 50 stored in your bag from home. Was Gatorade too expensive for your family to buy, I wondered? Well let's stock up.

It means stuffing a few extra supplies in your bag before you leave. You could buy them at the local drugstore, but home was several hours away, and you wouldn't arrive until after dark. It means me winking, telling you this was our secret. (And now my secret's out!)

It means leaving the hospital after a long day and thinking, "Man, why did I become a nurse?"

It means leaving the hospital after a long day and thinking, "Yes! That. That was why I became a nurse!"

It means coming home and thinking about you. Wondering how you are doing, wondering if you are still living. It means thinking about you long after your death.

You see, my patients and their families leave a permanent imprint in my life. Each one takes up a little piece of my heart (and many take up a big piece). I learn from each of them; I grow as a human being. They thank me at the end of the day for taking care of them, but really they are the ones who need to be thanked. It is my honor and privilege to care for people in need. Each time I drive to work, prior to walking through those sliding doors, I pray that the Lord would help me be His hands and feet that day. And being His hands and feet...that's what being a nurse means to me.


Thank y'all for reading. And happy Nurses Week to my fellow nurses.