If my life had gone as I planned I would have been a nurse for a year already. If my second plan had followed through I would have gotten pinned today, and would be graduating tomorrow. Alas, God’s plan is still greater than mine and I will graduate in December of this year. Any who, today also kicks off Nurses Week. This week of May each year the nation celebrated nurses. Anyone who knows me knows I love nursing, and they also know that I don’t love nursing for the science or for “good money” but because it is a caring profession. But in light of nurses week I want to share something a friend sent me once. I don’t know who wrote this or where it came from, but it’s my favorite writing about nursing.
Yesterday I overheard a nursing student snark, “yeah, this is why I’m in nursing school – so I can pass trays.” And if I hadn’t been up to my eyeballs in other things to do for my patients, I would have stopped and said: You’ve already missed the point entirely. I’m not sure why you DO think you’re here. If you hope to be a good nurse (or coworker, or person with a heart), you’re going to spend the majority of your working life doing things you SO mistakenly think are beneath you. You are going to pass trays with a smile – excitement even, when your patient finally gets to try clear liquids. You will even open the milk and butter the toast and cut the meat. You will feed full-grown adults from those trays, bite by tedious, hard-to-swallow bite. You will, at times, get your own vital signs or glucoscans, empty Foley bags and bedside commodes without thinking twice. You will reposition the same person, move the same three pillows, 27 times in one shift because they can’t get comfortable. You will not only help bathe patients, but wash and dry between the toes they can’t reach. Lotion and apply deodorant. Scratch backs. Nystatin powder skin folds. Comb hair. Carefully brush teeth and dentures. Shave an old man’s wrinkled face. Because these things make them feel more human again. You will NOT delegate every “code brown,” and you will handle them with a mix of grace and humor so as not to humiliate someone who already feels quite small. You will change ostomy appliances and redress infected and necrotic wounds and smell smells that stay with you, and you will work hard not to show how disgusted you may feel because you will remember that this person can’t walk away from what you have only to face for a few moments. You will fetch ice and tissues and an extra blanket and hunt down an applesauce when you know you don’t have time to. You will listen sincerely to your patient vent when you know you don’t have time to. You will hug a family member, hear them out, encourage them, bring them coffee the way they like it, answer what you may feel are “stupid” questions – twice even – when you don’t have time to. You won’t always eat when you’re hungry or pee when you need to because there’s usually something more important to do. You’ll be aggravated by Q2 narcotic pushes, but keenly aware that the person who requires them is far more put upon. You will navigate unbelievably messy family dramas, and you will be griped at for things you have no control over, and be talked down to, and you will remain calm and respectful (even though you’ll surely say what you really felt to your coworkers later), because you will try your best to stay mindful of the fact that while this is your everyday, it’s this patient or family’s high-stress situation, a potential tragedy in the making. Many days you won’t feel like doing any of these things, but you’ll shelve your own feelings and do them the best you can anyway. HIPAA will prevent you from telling friends, family, and Facebook what your work is really like. They’ll guess based off what ridiculousness Grey’s Anatomy and the like make of it, and you’ll just have to haha at the poop and puke jokes. But your coworkers will get it, the way this work of nursing fills and breaks, fills and breaks your heart. Fellow nurses, doctors, NPs and PAs, PCAs, unit clerks, phlebotomists, respiratory therapists, physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists, transport, radiology, telemetry, pharmacy techs, lab, even dietary and housekeeping — it’s a team sport. And you’re not set above the rest as captain. You will see you need each other, not just to complete the obvious tasks but to laugh and cry and laugh again about these things only someone else who’s really been there can understand. You will see clearly that critical thinking about and careful delivery of medications are only part of the very necessary care you must provide. Blood gushing adrenaline-pumping code blue ribs breaking beneath your CPR hands moments are also part, but they’re not what it’s all about. The “little” stuff is rarely small. It’s heavy and you can’t carry it by yourself. So yes, little nursling, you are here to pass trays.
I think the most beautiful part of nursing is getting to pass the trays, wipe the poop, clean up puke. It is those tasks that allow us to help preserve the dignity of patients. Nursing school has not failed to present 100,000 challenges thus far, I’ve grown more than I could have possibly imagined, and I know I’ll grow so much more in my last semester as a student, and for the rest of my life as a nurse.
So happy nurses week! Here’s to the journey, the challenge, the joy, the gift of caring for people and their families in their most vulnerable of states!