a colleague of mine sent this to me via e-mail and i felt like sharing…
end of shift: rn’s clinical experience changes preconceived notions of nursing
by hila wieser, rn, bsn
thursday may 31, 2012
hila wieser, rn
i entered the accelerated bsn program at the university of medicine and dentistry of new jersey anticipating i would be transformed into french celebrity juliette binoche cast as the heroic world war ii nurse in "the english patient." my future patients, i imagined, would all be clones of the rugged ralph fiennes — electric blue eyes, glowing skin and beads of sweat glistening in the sahara sun.
fifteen months of tracheotomies, nasogastric tubes, stage iv decubitus ulcers, 12-lead ekg’s, fecal tubes, urinary catheters, purulent secretions, blood, vomit, more blood and more vomit — and of caring for patients from the crime- and poverty-stricken neighborhoods of newark and new brunswick, n.j. — since has dramatically altered my initial image of nursing, healthcare and 21st-century western medicine.
these experiences, from my time at the university hospital, affiliated with umdnj in newark, and at robert wood johnson university hospital in new brunswick, often proved so difficult and anxiety-provoking that nine times out of 10 i did not sleep the night before my clinicals. and yet, they did not shatter my lofty nursing goals. they did the exact opposite by showing me up close what i never had the chance to witness so intimately before: our greatest vulnerabilities and our greatest strengths acting in tandem. and ultimately, this is what validated my desire to become a nurse.
juliette binoche might have given me a soft-lit, l’oreal-styled daydream of nursing, but 900 hours of clinical practice, divided between the sick and vulnerable (patients and families), and those serving the sick and vulnerable (nurses, physicians, therapists, social workers, etc.), exposed me to the greatest human equalizer: our need for one another.
never before those immersive hours of nurse-patient care had i absorbed human suffering to the fullest, most forcible degree to which it truly existed. i had never witnessed a mother hold back her tears while her 6-year-old daughter was screaming in sickle cell crisis. i had never been asked by a kind truck driver, "what do i do now?" after he was told both his legs would be amputated because of metastatic bone cancer.
i had never squeezed the hand of a non-english-speaking woman from mexico who was fearful about the critical status of her baby. i had never consoled a 38-year-old man who had just been told he might not make it through surgery scheduled for that afternoon. i had never felt the painful wheezing of a 50-year-old haitian woman who had suffered from severe asthma her entire life.
from what i saw, within the hospital doors no one cares whose waist is smaller, whose intellect is loftier, whose family is wealthier or whose apartment is bigger. there is nothing that makes you privileged or unprivileged, special or unspecial. your only distinction is the type of pain you may be suffering, or the type of care you can give to someone else who is suffering.
such should be the case across all realms of life, not just within those hospital doors. under the democracy of illness and suffering, what do other entitlements matter? once, listening to npr, i heard a reference to an author who said, "humans are divided into two groups: those who are sick, and the rest of us who are healthy — temporarily." here, in this wiser taxonomy, egos and privileges dissolve, and only belonging is left.
as famed writer and theorist susan sontag said after she was diagnosed with terminal acute myeloid leukemia, "this time, for the first time, i don’t feel special."
in the past 15 months of nursing school, this notion of "special" has ceased to exist for me as well. and for that i am grateful because now we all have a lot more in common. •