Nursing, the most trusted profession in America. We don’t think about it often in the hustle and bustle of our everyday, but that’s a pretty intense statistic. People trust us, exclusively, with almost every aspect of their lives. Through the good and the bad we are who they turn to. They expect us to be on our game, present, and know all the answers, at any given moment. We don’t get to have an “off” day, or someone may die. We must sift through the mess, dig to the bottom, and give every ounce of ourselves to anyone who walks through the door. We learn to watch for trends, patterns, or any subtle clue that may tell us something is about to go down. This isn’t bad, in fact, it’s pretty awesome, and I am most certainly not complaining. This is my job, my calling, and huge portion of who I am. It’s an honor to care for these people, even in their darkest moments.
I was thinking about Nurses Week, how one week a year everyone tells us how great we are, and how thankful they are that we, “do what we do.” Regardless of what your calling may be as a nurse, this is your time to shine. Truth is, I know they appreciate us all year-long, even if they don’t vocalize it, but it’s easy to forget about the daily sacrifices we all make if you’re not on the ground running. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Nurses week, I think it’s a nice gesture, and I am always happy to receive my new cup, tote, flashlight, or whatever the gift of the year may be. Just a token of appreciation for our hard work; but to me, being a nurse is so much more.
I have had the honor of knowing and meeting so many amazing nurses in my life, not just in the ER, but all over the place. Though we all have vastly different jobs, they are equally as important. We all play a vital role in the health care system and overall well-being of our patients, and not one of us could function independently. We need each other to get by.
I worked triage this past weekend, and for anyone that is an ER nurse, you know what an interesting group you can encounter in just one shift. You are literally the front line, the face of the hospital, and the catch-all for whatever stumbles in. Talk about being on your game, this is it. Every person has the potential to crump, to leave out a minor “detail” that could change everything, or to be “that patient,” the one that teaches you a lesson you will never forget. This is not a solo job, there is so much work that goes on behind the scenes, but even so, it’s a pretty scary place to be. My biggest fear sitting in that chair? That someone will run in carrying a blue, limp baby. It’s happened, more than once, but it’s never fun, and it takes days, sometimes weeks for me to shake. You see, I have been that mother, the one whose tiny babies weren’t able to breathe on their own and were born that scary shade of blue, the one your gut just knows is bad, and even though we like to think that as nurses we are prepared for anything, we aren’t. We are human, and we get terrified just like everyone else.
Scared does not adequately describe the way I felt the day my girls were born. They were early, and I knew they would be, so I thought I was ready. Ready for whatever they could throw my way. Well it turns out I wasn’t ready after all, but you know who was? Their nurses. Those NICU nurses are incredible. I trusted them with my heart and soul. Not that the neonatologist weren’t great, because they were, but they spent minutes a day with us. The nurses were there every single second for weeks on end. They laughed with me, cried with me, understood me, and didn’t judge me when I was losing my mind over spilt milk, bradycardia, and grams of weight. They trusted me, they helped me feel like a mother, even though I couldn’t even carry my girls more than 2 feet away from their isolettes. So incredible the relationship I created with these people. I may have just met them, but they loved me and my girls like family, that was the only thing that got me through those long sleepless nights.
A couple of years ago my grandmother called to tell me she was having a hard time breathing. I sent my husband (who is a paramedic) to check on her. He found her ashen, gray, and diaphoretic, with a heart rate of 12, yes 12. EMS paced her in route and she made it to the ER, to the ICU, and then she arrested. I trusted those ICU nurses and the cath lab nurses without ever thinking twice. They are incredible at what they do, and I knew they would treat her like one of their own. They did, they saved her. She slowly got better, and walked out of the hospital a few weeks later. She is still alive and doing well, I couldn’t be more grateful to all the nurses along the way, I credit their hardwork and dedication for the joy I feel knowing she will attend my girls third birthday party tomorrow. So many moments we almost lost.
It’s easy sometimes to forget the importance of the all the nurses around us. We get focused on our field, our work, and the guts and glory aspect of our job. Is it awesome? Yes. Do I absolutely love it? Yes. But it’s not for everyone, and that doesn’t mean their work is any less meaningful. Right this minute, all around the world, there are nurses working tirelessly to save lives and help others.
Somewhere there’s a nurse compressing the chest of a 40 year old father who just arrested in front of his family. Somewhere there’s a nurse reminding sweet Mrs. Jones for the 460th time today where her room is. Somewhere there’s a nurse who’s hungry, hasn’t peed in 8 hours, and is trying to pass evening meds before the end of her shift. Somewhere there’s a nurse consoling a parent whose whole world just turned upside down with the loss of a child. Somewhere there’s a nurse being berated and belittled by a doctor. There’s a nurse rocking a crying baby, emptying the tiniest chest tube you could ever imagine, and measuring urine output by weighing a diaper no bigger than your palm. Somewhere there’s a nurse taking vitals, giving shots, and holding hands. There’s a nurse intently watching as the 17 year olds ICP creeps up, 3 days after he crashed his motorcycle. There’s a nurse preparing to intubate a 10 year old who is having an anaphylactic reaction, placing a COPD’er on rescue Bipap, and cracking the chest of a stabbing victim as a last ditch effort.
There are nurses who quit their jobs, sacrificed countless hours with their families, and lived at school for years to be able to put you to sleep and keep you safe during surgery. Those nurses eyes can’t leave their patient, not for one second, they hold your life in their hands. There are nurses who function as practitioners, making decisions and placing orders just like doctors, but yet still battle the “just a nurse” mentality. There are nurses who come into your home, to help you when you can’t help yourself. There are nurses helping young healthy people, learn to walk again after the traumatic loss of a limb. There are directors, managers, and CNO’s, who have attended more meetings this week then I probably have in my life, crossed T’s, dotted I’s, and gone to battle for us, day after day. Their work never really ends.
There are nurses on helicopters, landing in the middle of the interstate to rescue a family after they were hit by a drunk driver. Those guys have seen some unimaginable things. There’s a nurse charting, charting, charting, because the patient was so sick that they haven’t charted a thing in hours. Somewhere there’s a nurse administering chemo to a 4 year old girl, who has lost all her hair and is dressed as a princess. Just typing that makes me feel like someone kicked me in the gut, but it’s true.
There’s a nurse crying, a nurse laughing, and I can almost assure you there’s a nurse telling an inappropriate joke. There are nervous nurses who are studying for the biggest test of their lives, tired nurses who spend every extra minute working on school work, and burnt out nurses who can’t take it one more day, they’ve just seen too much. There are happy nurses who just witnessed true strength as new life entered the world, and proud nurses as they watch their rehab patient finally get in the car for the long awaited ride back home.
All around us are nurses, silent superheroes, who do and see the unimaginable. Some of it is amazing, so incredible that it would bring tears to your eyes, and some of it so horrifying that just thinking about it brings intense pain, even to the most seasoned of nurses. The best part of it all is that we have the ability to change lives, every single day. Our job can be thankless, but it can also be beautiful and consuming. The kind of consuming that changes who you are, makes you cherish the sunshine, and gives you the strength to be a better person, a better nurse, one patient at a time. It’s what we do.
Happy Nurses Week to the most complex and amazing individuals on this earth. I am honored to be part of this with each one of you.