On Becoming a Nurse
Reflecting on why you chose your profession is never a bad idea. Sometimes we need to be reminded, and it's restorative. Sometimes it brings us back farther than we anticipated. Always, there are people to thank.
I was a banker when I met my wife. Before that, among other things, a silver-tongued used car salesman. A lifetime ago, I was in the Human Services field, helping people with special needs and struggling to pay my bills. I've had several careers and a myriad of jobs. When my wife's family persuaded me to manage their successful restaurant with an imminent ownership carrot, I felt my future was secured; however, when my wife became pregnant with our first son, working twelve hours a day seven days a week wasn't an option any longer. So we sold the business and I started nursing school. There was a nursing shortage at the time, and I wanted to have a career where I felt like I was helping people beyond satisfying their consumer needs. That was about seven years ago and my wife is now fairly pregnant with our fourth son.
Presently, I am a psychiatric nurse. I love my job, and am able to pay my bills. I am content. I look at my three boys and my expanding wife and am grateful for the choices and paths that led me to them and to where we are today. Then I realize that my oldest son is going to be nine years old soon, and I remember one of the more obscure or profound reasons why I became a nurse. The memory is a little ambiguous, and the twinge of nostalgia is bittersweet.
I was severely asthmatic as a child. It began and quickly developed when I was nine. I couldn't say if it was allergies, genetics, my somatic response to a burgeoning understanding of the world, or any other dumb guess, but my autoimmune system hijacked an otherwise pretty idyllic childhood. I became a regular at the local hospital emergency room and at the nurse's office when I actually attended school. I remember the anxiety when my restricted airways failed to respond to a rescue inhaler. I remember the kidney-shaped bowl my mother would hold for me as I vomited phlegm in-between racking coughs; the look on her face. Or when the Albuterol and Salmeterol nebulizer treatments didn't touch me and they'd have to inject me with adrenaline. I recall an attack that required a series of more of these shots than usual, and being laughed at by the doctor when I asked if I could go run around the parking lot for a while. One time on vacation I had a bad attack and didn't want to go to an unfamiliar hospital, so I tried to be stoic as I sat rigidly on the edge of that hotel room bed feigning indifference and the ability to breathe. By the time I got to the hospital, one of my lungs had partially collapsed.
I was admitted to the PICU for a week of observation when the frequency and severity of attacks became excessive. This was an entirely different world from the ER. I was excited when I saw they had video games, and then embarrassed and disappointed when I asked if I could play and was told that they were just a different type of vital signs monitor than I was used to. In my defense, they did resemble Donkey Kong. That week felt interminable. I realize now how brief a period of time those seven days were. In the room next to me, separated by a glass partition, was a boy who had been in the local news for a while. I still remember his name - David Yarmush. He had been hit by a car and was in a coma and on life support. We were the same age. I believe staring at him all day and night and the people who came to visit him changed and shaped my perspective. Boys like us get hurt, we get sick; sometimes badly enough to die. I was frightened and melancholy; sinking into myself. The kindness of strangers kept me afloat.
I want to say I remember each nurse from each shift distinctly; their names, their scents, their individual voices or laughter. I can't, though. As human and warm as they were then, they have become a set of ideals to me now, a paradigm. One name I remember is Sarah, "with an a-i-t-c-h". One nurse was so achingly beautiful and smelled so unbearably pleasant that I blame her for an early onset of puberty. An older nurse with an accent softly hummed the same song incessantly, like some chronic disorder ('La Vie en Rose'). I do recall that each nurse I encountered was an authentic presence. They genuinely wanted to be there; to see to my needs and that I was not embarrassed by them; to help me and to listen; to comfort me; and, ultimately, to teach me compassion. However, it was watching them take care of the boy next to me that made me fall in love them. They were as genuine with this tragic, unresponsive victim of circumstance as they were with the scared, overly polite boy who watched him incessantly and imagined the life of the mind within that broken body. I wondered a few months later, after the news of his death had been broadcast, if he had been able to appreciate the kindness of these women. In the romanticized version, the summation of David's internal responses to these nurses - to the scent of an intensely adult woman's hair as she reaches over you to "unkink" an IV tube, the sharp staccato laughter of the chubby little night nurse, to being awoken by the benign touch of a foreign woman's cool hand against your cheek and forehead, and so on - was the same as mine: profound gratitude. In that version, Edith Piaf echoed over the verdant landscape of his deep sleep. I still prefer this naive, apocryphal version of an unfortunate boy's last days over any rational, neurobiological understanding.
I allow myself to idealize my role as a nurse because of that experience. Those exceptional women taught me the virtue of kindness. I am able to channel them, to try to be a Good Samaritan with each clinical encounter. This is why I am a nurse: I am afforded the opportunity to give comfort to strangers.
In dreams, I have been assigned as a nurse to those two little boys. I am kind to them, I ease their suffering, and they break my heart and change me into something better than I am. In dreams, I am David, on the other side of that glass partition, alone and dying inside a ravaged body, and I feel a gentle hand touch my skin, I smell something clean and mildly intoxicating, I hear distant music or laughter resonate; then I slowly rise from the bed and walk out of the room, away from what I know, and with alarming suddenness, I burst out laughing and start running.Last edit by tnbutterfly on Jan 29, '14
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Specialty: 5 year(s) of experience in PsychiatryJan 26, '14Quote from morecoffeeplsPriceless. Thanks for sharing.One nurse was so achingly beautiful and smelled so unbearably pleasant that I blame her for an early onset of puberty.Jan 26, '14So beautifully written. We can all only hope as nurses to touch lives in a way that those nurses touched yours.Jan 28, '14Very eloquently written, and summarises perfectly the reasons why I want to be a nurse. Our pasts have a funny way of shaping us and how we approach the world. We can either let our pasts hinder us, or help us.Jan 29, '14Please continue to write... It is such a joy to read your words on this site as you have a wonderful way of expressing and transporting us to another time and place: One that makes us smile, and inwardly happy despite our present woes.