Don't Curse the Nurse!

Sharing support with stories & humor

Dirty Little Secret

Although I have a passion for my work, I still sometimes walk around feeling like I have a dirty little secret. And I want to let it out.

It took me almost twenty- five years to truly love my work.

Here’s the story.

When I applied to nursing school, I didn’t care how I was going to earn my future paycheck. I just wanted a grown up job, and three close friends were applying so I thought, Why not. I had no particular interest in studying health sciences, changing bloodied dressings, or holding an emesis basin under the chin of some puking patient. In the three months prior to turning in my transcripts, my only interest had been to land my back handspring on the balance beam. My dream had always been to keep tumbling, to let my feet fly up over my head and watch the world spin around. I was never happier then when tucked into a ball, rotating on my own axis, my focus on my core and nothing else. Gymnastics was my religion, the gym — my church.

Then graduation came, teenage love turned into marriage, and my “Why not” attitude turned into a carrousel ride on the local college’s nursing track program.

There were at least three occasions I thought about quitting. Microbiology was painstakingly boring. Krebs Cycle — don’t even ask me about it. (Go talk to Victo at https://doctorly.wordpress.com.) There is at least one nursing instructor that put such a fear in me that I will remember her name with I am ninety years old.  But I made it through.

Twenty-five years to love my job.

Half of my waking hours are spent at work. So, if I choose to, I could surmise that twenty-five percent of my cumulative consciousness has been time wasted — time — a commodity I find precious. At first, it saddens me to immortalize this fact by typing it on the page.  My only consolation is having pondered my career path from its inception and now understanding why it took so long to love what I do.

In the early years I was afraid — afraid the patients wouldn’t like me, the doctors would belittle me, and the seasoned nurses would find my mistakes before I could double back and check my work. I panicked when given a new task and turned the other way when I saw a doctor coming my way. Much time passed before I was confident of my skills. I maintained a cautious reserved attitude at work, only loosening up a little when I transferred to an OB position on the night shift. The one thing I never found any value in, even after a decade of nursing, was the patient “chat time”. Being pulled to the bedside to hear a story from years gone past was, in my opinion, minutes wasted. I didn’t know what to do with all the emotional purging that transpired each time I was at the patient’s bedside. Talking was time consuming. And when it was all done, I still had as much work to do.

I learned to listen when my daughter reached middle school and became socially active. Now, my hearing didn’t improve because she and I were becoming best buddies. That was hardly the case. I went into case management to accommodate her new schedule (and my additional responsibilities as a single parent). The job involved hours of telephonic work. Listening, patience, and asking the right questions accounted for fifty percent of the time.

My little princess, she grew up and I went back to clinical nursing.

Enough time had passed and with the changes in healthcare, I essentially had to start over. Relearn everything.  Yes, I was nervous at first, several years had passed. One thing is different. I am excited every day I go to work. Knowing I have an opportunity to listen, connect, and be there for someone else, it means everything to me. So in summary, this is what I think happened:

I fell in love with nursing when I was mature enough to love the profession like a woman loves a man, unconditionally, cherishing the moments of synchronicity and enduring the trials that test the relationship. Nursing is not a job for people that don’t want to grow up. Nor is it a job for those that might be considered heavy in the “self-focus” department.

The career crush happens when you can connect with your patients. The connection with the patients comes when you’ve experienced the same sense of vulnerability you see in the eyes of your patients, when you realize you are no different than them…when you know what it means to be human.

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We call this a blackout…or…Old story worth repeating

“You’re what?” She jumped from topic to topic and it was hard for me to follow her.

She reached up with her hand and curled the pillow edge under her head. “I am an intuitive.”

“What’s that?” I was busy, but I was more curious than busy. So, I took my time taping her IV while she talked.

“I am able to diagnose what my friends and family’s health problems are.”

“Oh.” My superego was ready to kick in. This patient could potentially cause real harm to a friend that might think too highly of the advice from someone who bragged to me about her five months training at massage school. I felt a responsibility to chastise her. Just listen. That’s what they tell us in nursing school. Be supportive.

“Well, I hear the doctor’s voice down the hall. You’re next. It will only take twenty minutes tops.”

She gave me a smug smile then said, “It will be ten minutes. I know the problem is in my left colon.”

I know the statistics about colon cancer. My response was gentle. “You put yourself through an unpleasant prep. He’ll check your entire large intestine to be on the safe side.”

She shook her head at me and said tartly as the procedure room nurses approached her bed, “I am so sure of myself, I only took half the prep.”

She was the last patient in a very long day and about to be seen by a doctor who’d not taken a break in seven hours.

My intuition told me he was going to be pretty unhappy when he got into the sigmoid colon.

 

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