Tuesday, September 04, 2007

still liking nursing

A couple of months ago I was beginning to think I didn't like nursing anymore. I wanted to quit.

This was rather troubling, as I've always been a nurse. And when I wasn't a nurse, I wanted to be one.

Wrapped up in my earliest memories are images of dolls in cradles nursed back to health by moi, decked out in a nurses apron and cap. Of course. Because everyone knows nurses wear aprons and caps. So there I was, in my little dress up outfit, proud as punch while I tempted my very compliant patients with drinks served through bendy straws. I credit my nursing career to those bendy straws... without them I'd never be where I am today. It was all I ever wanted, to be a real nurse using bendy straws to create drinking ease for the weak and infirm. (And yes, I ply my patients with drinks through bendy straws nearly every working day)

Throughout primary and high school I clung to my dream to nurse, fending off this teacher's suggestion to apply for medicine and that teacher's nudge towards physiotherapy. I wanted to nurse, and eventually I did, and I've never regretted it.

Until the last month or two. After two years educating new nurses I decided to return to the coal face of ward nursing. It's been a hard transition - shifts, crap, puke, aching feet, time pressure, horizontal violence... I know it's supposed to be rewarding, all that caring, but sometimes nursing is a lot of effort for not much return. I chose to stay because I haven't worked my way out of the hospital yet.

And as I've stuck at it, slowly my attitude has changed... I'm liking nursing again. It's a pleasure to go to work and be with the patients. (I still have issues with staff cliques and their bawdy singing of inappropriate songs at the nurse's station)

Today was a case in point. I enjoyed my patients. OK. That's not quite true. One was untalkative, another irritating, and the other in total denial about his lifestyle. Still, I found it satisfying. (Does it get much more satisfying than being told you look like you're 23 when you're actually 32?! I'm ignoring the fact he told another nurse last week that she looks 24...) I'm getting back into nursing, enjoying the chance to make a difference in people's lives, hoping to leave them more comfortable and at peace than they were before I arrived. I'm finding satisfaction in ministering to people's needs. It's good.

Of course there's the other side of the nursing coin, and that is the wrench of intersecting with the pain and sadness of someone diagnosed with cancer, the shock of a family coping with the dramatic personality change of a loved one after a freak accident resulting in brain injury, the exhaustion of an elderly man struggling with his wife's advanced dementia.

If I stopped and thought about each unique illness and accident, the personal tragedies of all these people - I would go under. I hope they find comfort in the gentle touch, soft word, or caring smile I weakly offer.

Today I allowed myself to be touched by the elderly parents of a patient. They brought him socks and bananas, expressing obvious love for their son in a small, tangible way. They must surely be heart broken by the changes they see in him. I am moved by the sadness of their loss.

This too is why I love nursing. Where else do we in the West allow ourselves to be stripped bare? When else are we honest about our pain but when undeniably confronted by our fragility? In nursing I pick my way through the broken pieces of people's lives, treading carefully, cradling gently, aware of the privileged position I hold in those moments when lives fall apart. No one plans on developing cancer, losing their mind, crashing their car. It happens. My role is to respect their pain, and honour their experience.

Yes, there are shifts, crap, puke, aching feet, time pressure, horizontal violence. But in nursing there are also precious shared moments. I wouldn't swap them for the world.

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At 1:14 am, September 05, 2007, Blogger Deanna said...

I appreciate that you have always felt the pull to nursing, and that lately you've seen your attitude changing, even back on the front lines. I've been in hospitals and seen my loved ones there many times; what would we do without folks like you willing to respect our pain and honor our experience? Thanks.

At 8:01 am, September 05, 2007, Blogger Mike S said...

As the husband of a retired nurse, it's very easy to relate. Nice, thoughtful,uplifting post:)

At 11:19 am, September 07, 2007, Blogger Robyn said...

Oooh you're actually making me miss nursing - that hasn't happened for a while. It really is a privilege though isn't it, it have that opportunity to care for people when they need it most. You're a good woman, Cec.

At 9:07 pm, September 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I concur with Robyn, Cecily, you are a good woman. A very good woman. Obviously Frank noticed too! I am so becalmed by reading this blog; to know you have found the nurse within, again. (Phew!)Besides if you do work your way out of the hospital (ridiculous notion in my mind), how on earth will we ever do coffee then. Jenny.
PS Thanks for sharing, Frank.

At 7:31 am, September 08, 2007, Anonymous Sandy said...

I'm not sure I could do what you do; nursing takes a special kind of person. When we are ill and need someone to turn our outlook around, it's usually a nurse that has the right words. It really is amazing the difference a good nurse can make. A thankless job, yes. We're so busy celebrating or crying when it's over, we forget to thank those people that put up with us in the hospital.

I love this post Cecily. Thanks for sharing.

At 7:01 am, September 10, 2007, Anonymous Leah said...

Thank you for the lovely portrait of work and worship together.


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