What it Means to be a Nurse

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I’ve stayed pretty quiet this week about the controversy swirling around remarks made on the ABC program, “The View” regarding nurses. But it did make me think–reflect back over the 25 years that I’ve been a registered nurse, and what moments stand out in my mind. I thought I would share one of those moments here.

I vividly remember a night in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit when my three-year old patient lost his ferocious battle with a very aggressive cancer. I remember how small his tiny body looked in the bed, and I asked his mother if she would like to hold him in the chair. She shook her head and asked me if she could climb into the bed with him and just hold him like she had done when he was scared. “But this time,” she said in a trembling voice, “it’s me that is scared.”

I pulled the sliding glass door closed as I left her alone with her precious little boy, and made a valiant effort to keep my composure as I finished charting all of the minutia of details regarding the “code” that had preceded his death–the frantic failed effort to save him. When I heard my patient’s mother climb out of the bed, I reentered the room to begin the process of readying his tiny little body for transport down to the hospital morgue. Standing on the opposite side of the bed, his mother asked, “What happens now?”

I described to her as gently as possible, the post-mortem routine that we followed–beginning with bathing him. “I’d like to help you bathe him if I can,” his mother replied stoically. “If this is going to be his last bath, I’d like to help give it.” So, we stood together silently washing his bruised little body. I was able to fight back my own tears until I heard the quiet voice from across the bed ask, “What am I going to do when I get back to the house and his things are everywhere? The first thing I will see when I pull into the driveway is his swings-set.”

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly as the dam holding back my tears was breached. I felt as if I were failing her. She needed me to be strong, and there I was crying silently as I worked through the blur of tears. “I’m sorry,” I told her.

She shook her head vehemently, her own tears flowing then. “Please don’t ever apologize for caring about him. I’m grateful…so grateful that he was surrounded by nurses who cared about us at the end.”

When I got to my car in the parking deck the next morning, I sat and cried for at least twenty minutes before I felt like I should attempt the drive home. To my own family. I didn’t want to bring my sadness home with me, and have my own toddler pick up on it. The preceding twelve hours had been a roller coaster of highs and lows, of hope and heartache, of adrenaline and then pure fatigue–both physically and emotionally. I wish I could tell you that this was the only shift this demanding. But in truth, being a nurse means that you put yourself out there 100% for your patients and their families every shift. Often times, you are the person that takes the brunt of everyone’s frustration and even if you act like it rolls off of your back, it doesn’t. It hurts. But you keep going.

Most people have no idea what it takes to be a nurse. The programs are selective, the course work is difficult, and the challenges of the job itself can be unbelievably taxing. But ultimately, people chose to be nurses because they want a profession that makes a difference in people’s lives. It isn’t high paying, glamorous, or envied by others–but it is what we are called to do, and most of us wouldn’t want to do anything else.

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One thought on “What it Means to be a Nurse

  1. This story brought me to tears. So incredibly poignant. I worked as a tech in a small ER for several years, and saw the demands that are put on nurses in even that limited environment. You have summed up so perfectly the toll that this calling takes. Thank you, for your many years of selfless service.

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