I always assumed, as a new nurse, that after a year or so, I’d know it all.
There are some things for which school prepares you. How to spike an IV bag, how to administer standard medications as scheduled; how to make the perfect care plan. Yet nursing is not about the perfect care plan, and although one can, as a nurse, pride themselves on their ability to give out daily meds or set up IV tubing, there is so much more than that to this profession.
never prepared me for my first patient death. For how utterly helpless I would feel standing in my patient’s room, relegated to being the “recorder”, because I had the least amount of ACLS experience. To the emotions I would feel walking out of the room and telling the family that I was sorry, and we had done all we could, but their loved one was dead. To walking away, tearing up, thinking, “Their nurse stood holding a clipboard and recording meds and times. Maybe if I had more experience, the patient would still be alive!”
The crying-drive-home was never covered in nursing school.
Nor was covered the Starbucks run. How a day off can mean a run into work. When I last went for a latte, I was greeted in the entry by the son of a patient who had died six days prior, while I was on vacation. All I wanted was an iced latte and a drive home. But I spoke to that son for 20 minutes, offered my condolences, and watched him walk out the door, knowing he’d be burying his father, my patient, the next day. Nursing school never prepared me for the guilt I’d feel, and feel to this moment. I did my best. However, I knew that family. I left for a VACATION. Could I have made a difference? No. I know that rationally. The patient’s prognosis was grim. As a nurse, however, that was no consolation.
I barely made it through my coffee order without tears being shed, and sitting in my car, I called my husband, my link to the living world. While he loves me with all his heart, he admits he cannot understand.
Such is nursing.
I returned from that vacation, prior to meeting that family member, to a letter in my employee mailbox stating that I was being recognized for excellent patient care. I ran to Human Resources, cashed in my letter, and received two movie tickets.
Two movie tickets. For excellent patient care.
Nonetheless, I went to work. Felt GOOD. Like I was worth something.
My manager arrived to work. I received another accolade for good patient care. A $15 Starbucks giftcard. How cool is that? Now, I love Starbucks like the rest of y’all. Coffee is my salvation. However, I can’t drink coffee at work (no beverages allowed at nurses’ work stations—save your thirst for your 30-minute break). Hence why I was at Starbucks, on my day off, meeting a son whose father, my patient, had died and was to be buried the day after I got my coffee.
My manager wrote me a note with my Starbucks card. It reads, “Thanks so much for all that you do. When things get tough remember that you touch lives!”
I recalled that on the way home from Starbucks. Although no consolation, I hold on to that letter. It will be with me in my work bag as a reminder. For that is what nursing is. We work. We strive. We fight against doctors, families, labs, radiology . . . heck, even dietary! Often, we feel we get no respect. Sometimes, we fight against each other. No matter who we fight against, we look to create the best possible outcome. We stick our necks out to save lives. We deal with the heartache when we cannot save a life. We are nurses. That’s what we do.
This is why I love my job.