A Nurse's Sacrifice

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    A brief look into the personal sacrifices and struggles we as nurses endure for our beloved profession. Is it worth it?

    A Nurse's Sacrifice

    Nurses are usually first to diminish their own contributions and quickly dismiss any outside accolades from those not in the business of healthcare. “Isn’t it hard? Nurses are angels. My father had wonderful nurses when he died. I can’t imagine how you do it every day.” Comments like this bring the focus to us as individuals, making us inherently aware and uncomfortable with reality of the heavy weight our daily role carries. It is usually met with a brisk hand flail and quickened breath - attempting to get onto any other topic. “Oh, thanks. I love my job, it can be hard some days but it’s just something you do”.

    This doesn’t even come close to representing the struggles nurses endure every single shift. Our humble nature prevents us from accepting any adoration for our professional work and honestly, it’s probably because that would cause us to reflect inward on what our work really costs us on a personal level.

    I have been a registered nurse in oncology, both pediatric & adult, for over 10 years. Yes, I really love what I do. Really. It was only recently, after taking a class on incivility, I realized the true magnitude of personal sacrifices I had made for my beloved profession. Let’s start with night shift, shall we?

    We all know working night shift in any profession can have damaging physical effects; turning your internal clock upside down, shaking it loose for parts and dumping out all of your circadian rhythms along with it. What most nurses don’t talk about is things like not being able to have dinner with their families, not being able to sleep next to their spouse, having little patience and nothing left over to give when we finally do come home.

    Like many, I was told I had to “pay my dues” and work the night shift. So I did - for three years. I remember crying in the staff bathroom at around 12:10 am on New Year’s Eve. All of the voicemails from friends and family who were out celebrating made my heart heavy. I needed to collect myself quickly - the call bell rang for me. I saw my elderly patient, alone - a widower, with colorectal cancer, post bowel resection. I focused on the task at hand and shoved my own feelings down as deep as they would go. Moments like these are exactly what we need to start looking at – why do we not allow ourselves to feel badly about missing out on important life events?

    Most of us couldn’t even begin to count all of the weekends, nights, and holidays worked. Most of us don’t even really think of it. But, you probably remember the last important thing you had to miss – a child’s practice, a friend’s birthday, a spouse’s corporate event – and it does weigh on us. I even let my schedule dictate where my career would bring me. Going back to school? Need a day shift. Want more time to travel? Need 12 hours. Want get to know your family again? Outpatient clinic, work less holidays.

    I’ve seen nurses adjust their own insulin pumps because they don’t have time to eat properly while working. I’ve known nurses who have gotten kidney stones because they don’t have time to hydrate, never mind urinate. I have been unable to take my own medication on time during busy shifts. I’ve gone full shifts without a break. We have all felt utterly exhausted, seriously hypoglycemic and totally emotionally drained – sometimes multiple times per week. This profession is incredibly rewarding but do we know when to draw the line? Would we ever know when to tap out? I’m not so sure. Nurses are bred tough, maybe too tough for our own good.

    With all this in mind, let us take a moment to fully acknowledge the sacrifices we have made and continue to make every day. Remember to be kind to your fellow nurse. We absolutely must take care of each other. Please, take a mental health day when needed. Your family and your patients will all be happier! Be proud of all you do. It’s certainly not an easy job - some days may be totally thankless and bring on tears of frustration or self doubt. But, receiving that tearful ‘thank you’ from a deeply grateful patient, parent, or spouse can make it all worthwhile. I guess I’m still a sucker for this gig after all.
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    About Ashley Hay, BSN, RN

    An oncology nurse for over ten years from New York to California. Looking to expand my nursing horizons and explore my love of writing.

    Ashley Hay, BSN, RN has '10' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Oncology'. Joined Aug '16; Posts: 37; Likes: 93.

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    10 Comments

  3. by   AllOfMyWat
    Not normally my cup of tea, but a very good post. Cheers.
  4. by   WKShadowRN
    I understand your article and agree, to a point. Many in the health profession understand some aspects come with the territory such as working holidays and missing milestones or events.

    But other factors reveal how far our expected behavior enables the industry to exploit what many demonstrate as altruistic. Motivations to work and remain in less-than-ideal environments range from necessity (I have to pay bills) or the perception that you want to make a good impression or not rock the boat.

    There needs to be a realistic introspection as to why we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. After documenting so many no-lunches, instead of just giving my 30 minutes to the employer, you better belive I get my break.

    I acquiesce to the requirements imposed by the organization that are equitable and a condition of being employed such as rotating holidays and working what's expected. My director is fair in that matter and we can switch our assigned holidays if someone else is willing.

    My department is fantastic at working together to rearrange schedules when someone needs to be off for part of or all of a shift.

    I am truly lucky in that regard, but that doesn't mean I'm not without frustrations. However how I address or accept these depends on what battles I deem necessary and what I can live with.

    I don't feel I'm being taken advantage of in that respect because I know that even if that's what is happening, I know it is and I control what I allow and for what duration. I feel that gives me the upper hand as I bide my time until it is necessary to take action.
  5. by   RyanRGN
    Yep, that's the name of the game. Sacrifice with very little in return.
  6. by   sunshines66
    Recently there is a clip on TV for Code Black--What do you do when the the hospital has reach code black--you give more of yourself. I know I don't have the wording correct but what no management ever realizes that nurses do this day in and day out we give everything we have each and every day. We pull more from ourselves than we realize we had. Management sees this as a good thing. More for less money out. I have been a nurse for 28 years. I have missed weekend, holiday, family events for years. I am not even included any more because everyone has the mind set of she is never able to be there so why ask. I think every quarter nurses should have the ability to attend a workshop on stress management and reclaiming our own lives. After a while who know what it is like to actually have time to eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, potty when needed, let alone how to deal with the stress the job puts on us. I have worked for magnet and nonmagnet hospitals. I can't say which is worse. I was told once, that the honor of working in a magnet hospital meant they could pay me less. No altruism has never worked to pay my bills. I haven't been able to say to a creditor, isn't knowing I am a nurse enough to give me a better interest rate or only pay say 3/4 of my debt. I would be hauled off the the loony bin. I come home from work with bruises I can not always remember how I got because I am always working at top speed and do not have time to acknowledge a bruise only if I can no longer function would I be able to get a minute reprieve. Nurses sacrifice multiple times a day every day we work and half the time when we are off work, taking care of everyone else before ourselves. If we God forbid ever decide we need a minute we are called lazy or selfish.
  7. by   Ruby Vee
    I find it difficult to like this self-congratulatory post. I think everyone makes sacrifices. It's part of being an adult. Nights, weekends, holidays -- at least we get to go home at the end of our shift. We get to work indoors when it's nasty outside and we get solid middle class pay and benefits.

    My father worked nights for many years, bringing home minimum wage with no differential. When we work nights, we get a bit more in our pay checks. In some cases, we make a lot more. Nurses aren't the only people who work nights -- police and fire fighters work night shift. Bakers, convenience store clerks, security guards, airline crews and the IT personnel we call when our computers won't compute. We at least don't have to run into burning buildings, confront armed criminals or stand for hours in the rain directing traffic around that four car pile-up.

    We work weekends, yes, but very few of us works more than every other weekend unless it's by choice. And we get weekend differential. The staff of the Cineplex, the servers at your favorite restaurant, the minimum wage folks who man the cash registers at the mall, bus drivers, train conductors, tugboat crew and the soldiers and sailors serving our nation work weekends. (Talk about sacrifice!).

    Yes, I've missed holidays with my family and friends. But your two year old can't read the calendar to know when Santa is "supposed" to come and your mother ought to be able to understand that sick people don't automatically get discharged on the fourth Thursday in November. As far as crying because you've missed out on NYE -- I'm sure there were plenty of nurses willing to trade holidays with you so they could spend Christmas with their families. And again -- the staff of that nuclear reactor, the vets and techs at the emergency vet clinic, the soldiers deployed overseas and the pastor at your church all work on Christmas. We get holiday pay as many do not. And we get to go home after our shift.

    The airline pilot who has missed most holidays because he's low on the seniority list may be quite envious of your ability to go home at the end of the shift. The sailor on that submarine and the wait staff on that cruise shift can't go home.

    There are millions of people who work nights, weekends, holidays and can't go home at the end of their shift. Some of them can't go home for months or even years. I'm sure that they -- and their families -- don't see nurses as making that much of a sacrifice. Neither do I.
  8. by   joelcairo
    In truth, I have seen this self-sacrificing behavior in women in all areas of life - both professional and personal. As a man, I sacrifice and I am modest, but not in the way the author describes. I never sacrifice stopping to care for my basic needs because if I don't care for myself, how on earth am I going to care for anyone else properly? So, I always hydrate and go to the bathroom we the needs arise. I always take a lunch break unless there is an emergency situation that requires my presence, which is rare. As a diabetic, I always take my meds when it's time to do so. And, I always make sure I am properly rested. Frankly, I think I am a better clinician for it.
  9. by   Horseshoe
    Quote from Ruby Vee
    I find it difficult to like this self-congratulatory post. I think everyone makes sacrifices. It's part of being an adult. Nights, weekends, holidays -- at least we get to go home at the end of our shift. We get to work indoors when it's nasty outside and we get solid middle class pay and benefits.

    My father worked nights for many years, bringing home minimum wage with no differential. When we work nights, we get a bit more in our pay checks. In some cases, we make a lot more. Nurses aren't the only people who work nights -- police and fire fighters work night shift. Bakers, convenience store clerks, security guards, airline crews and the IT personnel we call when our computers won't compute. We at least don't have to run into burning buildings, confront armed criminals or stand for hours in the rain directing traffic around that four car pile-up.

    We work weekends, yes, but very few of us works more than every other weekend unless it's by choice. And we get weekend differential. The staff of the Cineplex, the servers at your favorite restaurant, the minimum wage folks who man the cash registers at the mall, bus drivers, train conductors, tugboat crew and the soldiers and sailors serving our nation work weekends. (Talk about sacrifice!).

    Yes, I've missed holidays with my family and friends. But your two year old can't read the calendar to know when Santa is "supposed" to come and your mother ought to be able to understand that sick people don't automatically get discharged on the fourth Thursday in November. As far as crying because you've missed out on NYE -- I'm sure there were plenty of nurses willing to trade holidays with you so they could spend Christmas with their families. And again -- the staff of that nuclear reactor, the vets and techs at the emergency vet clinic, the soldiers deployed overseas and the pastor at your church all work on Christmas. We get holiday pay as many do not. And we get to go home after our shift.

    The airline pilot who has missed most holidays because he's low on the seniority list may be quite envious of your ability to go home at the end of the shift. The sailor on that submarine and the wait staff on that cruise shift can't go home.

    There are millions of people who work nights, weekends, holidays and can't go home at the end of their shift. Some of them can't go home for months or even years. I'm sure that they -- and their families -- don't see nurses as making that much of a sacrifice. Neither do I.
    I have to say I agree with much of your post. My Dad was in the Air Force and would be sent off for months at a time. He worked missions three Christmases in a row in Vietnam and spent his day getting shot at while navigating a plane full of fuel (his planes re-fueled the fighter pilots IN THE AIR). The brave folks in the military, our police and fire fighting forces, among others, certainly sacrifice a great deal more than I ever have. Yes, I worked 10 Thanksgivings in a row (and most other holidays) so I could definitely be off for Christmas day. But I never worried that I wouldn't come home alive.

    The OP isn't totally off base, but I personally was never in it for the accolades, so it didn't bother me when they didn't come. It was a choice I made, and I got what I wanted out of the deal too. Once I got sick of working nights, weekends, holidays, etc., I shagged my butt out of there. Now my sacrifices are very few. Again, a choice.
  10. by   roser13
    I'm really not fond of the "nurses make sacrifices" train of thought. It's in roughly the same category as "nursing is more than a job, it's a calling" mindset. Perhaps because I came into nursing as an adult and most definitely not in answer to a calling, I don't feel that I have sacrificed myself in my years of work.

    Even on the busiest Med/Surg floor, I used the restroom when I needed to. I took my lunch breaks. I never worked off the clock. To do otherwise just wouldn't have occurred to me. My basic human needs have to be met before I can help my patients. It's like the oxygen on the airplane: you put your own mask on before you tend to your child. A child with an oxygen mask and a passed-out mom is not a favorable outcome.

    Sure, there were always those martyrs who never took lunch, never took breaks and loudly proclaimed how stressed they were. In my experience , those folks were usually the ones who (as in any job) just need more affirmation and pats on the back than others. My affirmation comes in the form of a paycheck and favorable reviews at year end. Because yes, I have always taken damn good care of my patients. Without sacrificing myself.
  11. by   roser13
    Quote from RyanRGN
    Yep, that's the name of the game. Sacrifice with very little in return.
    Surely you earn a decent paycheck?
  12. by   Medic/Nurse
    Quote from Ruby Vee
    I find it difficult to like this self-congratulatory post. I think everyone makes sacrifices. It's part of being an adult. Nights, weekends, holidays -- at least we get to go home at the end of our shift. We get to work indoors when it's nasty outside and we get solid middle class pay and benefits.

    My father worked nights for many years, bringing home minimum wage with no differential. When we work nights, we get a bit more in our pay checks. In some cases, we make a lot more. Nurses aren't the only people who work nights -- police and fire fighters work night shift. Bakers, convenience store clerks, security guards, airline crews and the IT personnel we call when our computers won't compute. We at least don't have to run into burning buildings, confront armed criminals or stand for hours in the rain directing traffic around that four car pile-up.

    We work weekends, yes, but very few of us works more than every other weekend unless it's by choice. And we get weekend differential. The staff of the Cineplex, the servers at your favorite restaurant, the minimum wage folks who man the cash registers at the mall, bus drivers, train conductors, tugboat crew and the soldiers and sailors serving our nation work weekends. (Talk about sacrifice!).

    Yes, I've missed holidays with my family and friends. But your two year old can't read the calendar to know when Santa is "supposed" to come and your mother ought to be able to understand that sick people don't automatically get discharged on the fourth Thursday in November. As far as crying because you've missed out on NYE -- I'm sure there were plenty of nurses willing to trade holidays with you so they could spend Christmas with their families. And again -- the staff of that nuclear reactor, the vets and techs at the emergency vet clinic, the soldiers deployed overseas and the pastor at your church all work on Christmas. We get holiday pay as many do not. And we get to go home after our shift.

    The airline pilot who has missed most holidays because he's low on the seniority list may be quite envious of your ability to go home at the end of the shift. The sailor on that submarine and the wait staff on that cruise shift can't go home.

    There are millions of people who work nights, weekends, holidays and can't go home at the end of their shift. Some of them can't go home for months or even years. I'm sure that they -- and their families -- don't see nurses as making that much of a sacrifice. Neither do I.
    Perspective really is EVERYTHING! What is sacrifice?

    One day was as good as the next to me. My family always understood what I did, why I did it and considered me important enough to celebrate 18-36 hours later in case of a holiday. Or just do an alternate celebration. Or not. No big deal. On weekends — Sunday, Saturday vs. Tuesday. All the same.

    Now, if we are talking preferences, that is different issue. Cause that is generally what it comes down to. There are always some that think they should be exempt from working any holidays cause they "have kids" "or family visiting" or "I worked last year, at my last job". Yep, heard them all. Nursing is 24/7/365 in most areas. If you work in those areas, you know what the deal is when you sign up.

    But, there can be exceptional cases.

    And in all my years of working I have only had one co-worker years ago that desperately deserved every last holiday off. His mother was dying in her late 40's and this would be her last Holiday season. He couldn't afford to take the time off tho. I went to the Chief and asked if we could take turns working his shifts, donating the money to him and allowing him to be off and be with her through her last weeks on earth. Denied initially. What? I wouldn't accept no for the answer. I then asked if we could go together to the City Manager to try and work out the legalities, as this was important. Approved.

    Flying, I prefered working Christmas Day. I didn't mind a 48 hour double on NYE/NYD. I didn't want to be on the roads! All, I wanted was Thanksgiving & day before off.

    Hospital travel, I would generally just take a travel assignment durning the holidays and ask for big $ to work all of them, but it has less to do with money that I wanted to think. I was trying to distract myself. Yeah, that doesn't work, but I'm glad I picked work as my vice.

    Staff RN, again I'm requesting Thanksgiving off and the day before. I'll be back on Black Friday and in will cover triage as punishment! Will work Christmas Eve 7p and stay till 11a on Christmas Day (for folks with kids to pilfer the Santa bounty!) but then I'm off for 4 days. I'll work NYE 7p till relieved on NY Day (sometime between 0900 and 1200 safely).

    My beloved nana (mom's mom) died my first year as a nurse in 2003 before the holidays. It mattered less after that. My dad understood my work and was so proud of me and lived 6 hours away from where I worked. We celebrated close to holidays. He never loved me any less. My hubby and I have been together 30+ years, this is just our life. We don't have kids. He's welcome to celebrate with his family or they may wait on me on occasion. There's always lots of moving parts.

    Family is important. Traditions are what you make them. And you can make your own traditions.

    Happiness and gratitude are everything. I'm blessed with so much good, I'd decided many years ago that I refused to allow my joy to be stolen by failing at conformity by meeting holiday industry expectations. Try it. Make it meaningful for you and those you love and that stress just disolves away!


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