by ma. carina maravilla
when i was a kid, i looked down on nurses. during visits to my pediatrician, i would see their tacky white outfits with matching white shoes and i thought it was a job for people who liked to clean up for others. in short, pang-katulong.
back then, my idea of a dream job was to wear mini-miniskirts to the office à la ally mcbeal. i wanted to be a lawyer. but when the time for college application came, i was just like most young people, totally clueless.
after receiving two rejection letters from my choice schools, my nursing life was born. just like that.
i couldn't imagine myself as a nurse. my friends were all shocked. knowing the kikay, mall-rat, every-hair-in-place personality that i possessed, they couldn't believe it.
but on the contrary, it was as if there was a greater force that destined me to be in this profession. my family is a family of nurses. and i tell you, i have a lot of relatives. must be in the blood.
on my first day in school, i couldn't believe the number of impeccably dressed student nurses i saw, all of them spic and span from head to toe. i couldn't even bring myself to wear the prescribed uniform, which was a straight-cut, button-down white dress with "flipper" arms. instead, i opted to go with my jeans and pink tank top. at that time, freshman students were allowed to wear civilian clothes for the first day of school (my classmates and i chose to wear it for a week).
i saw the girls who would go on their hospital duty with their hair tied in a bun, apron on top of their white uniform, plus nameplate, white stockings and white shoes. i thought, it must be a really hot outfit. i also thought the few guy students i saw on campus were probably gay.
my first year in college was probably the toughest. i was still in a state of denial as i wore my lecture uniform of white dress and black shoes for the first time. i was counting on being reconsidered for up, my dream school. (i got in, but the letter came too late, i was enrolled and settled already).
i was constantly worried about grades and not making it to the cut-off, so i worked my ass off literally and figuratively. of course, prayers were the no. 1 priority, for when you have three exams scheduled in a day and you studied inadequately, you'd definitely pray for your life.
it was hard. i learned how to stay up late studying chemical equations, which i hated and could never comprehend. i learned how to give up watching "sex and the city" so i could study. i learned to turn down high school friends asking me out for gimmicks.
i remember talking to my chemistry professor to help me get a good grade, at least a passing one. i was used to being on top of my class in elementary and high school. what was my grade? 73.8. i swear i'll never forget receiving that small sheet of paper containing that grade.
but my professor merely said, "tataas pa 'yan." i was like, "e, mam, kahit anung gawin kong aral ganun pa rin eh." she replied, "tataas pa 'yan."
for i was not the only one experiencing agony. the rest of my batchmates could relate to the experience of preparing for a mind-boggling report in chemistry and getting a zero on a post-test.
passing the cut-off grade upon entering second year was a relief. i never would have made it without the help of my guidance counselor, parents and god. i thought, maybe now i could relax.
but no. for this was the year we were required to go on our hospital duty for the first time. i didn't even know we were supposed to tie our hair up on the first day of duty.
the first lesson we had was temperature taking. surprisingly, my oral temperature was 37.5°c, slightly feverish. i didn't exactly know what triggered it--my sudden high level of anxiety perhaps or the fact that i ate spicy siomai that morning. i kept the siomai thing to myself.
my hospital duties were such an experience. i met people from all walks of life. we were also assigned to be in a group, and these people later became my closest buddies ever. we went to patients as one group, like a cheering squad, and we helped each other get through difficult tasks. we went to provinces to do not one, but two research papers. we did everything we had to do, and more. we became friends.
it was during this school year, too, when i experienced my firsts. first injection (i aced the return demonstration, but had a hard time with the orange, definitely not my favorite fruit), first bed-making (body mechanics!), first time to take blood pressure correctly (my first try, i couldn't hear anything. i made my classmate's arm cyanotic--that's bluish in layman's term), first time to write on a patient's chart, first time to establish rapport with a patient, first time to bathe a patient.
but there were also big sacrifices i had to make. i turned down two debuts of my friends, had to stay in a dorm during weekdays (i live far, so travel time was taking too much of my time). my social life became nonexistent. there were too many things to do with so little time! i was busy with readings, projects and duty hours. weekends i spent preparing for the week's duty requirements.
i had to be punctual--an hour to 30 minutes before duty time, with all the necessary paraphernalia (small notebook, red, black and blue pens, pencil, eraser, ruler, bandage scissors, two thermometers, tape measure, stethoscope, blood pressure apparatus, penlight with battery). i had to wear my duty uniform neatly, and strictly with no accessories except for a wristwatch.
aside from the duty uniform i mentioned, girls needed to wear chemise, and guys v-necked undershirts. i thought i could get away without the chemise, since it was so hot. but my clinical instructor found out and gave me 30 minutes' make-up duty on my first day! which turned out to be four long hours. what could you do in 30 minutes, anyway?
any failure to comply with the rules resulted in make-up duty, which could range from 30 minutes to a few days. during those days, i was extremely overwhelmed with all these to-dos, rules and policies to the point of suffocation. i never expected this. a speaker in a seminar said, "nursing is worse than joining the pma." true.
while my cousins told me how they partied all night in bars, watched gigs and the latest movies, i was in my dorm every night trying to catch some sleep, preparing for quizzes, or trying to cheer myself up over a low grade.
it was during my third and fourth years in college that i felt like giving up. yes, there were good times, but no matter how hard you try, things don't always go as planned. a single mistake could end the life of a patient, so i had to be careful all the time.
there were times when theory and practice contradicted each other, and you had to decide what to do. mistakes were inevitable, and a lot of times i found myself asking whether i was good enough.
you begin to ask whether it was worth all the pain, all the abuse you subject yourself to just to become a good nurse. was i actually paying for my tuition just to wake up at 4 a.m., be out of the dorm by 5.30, and be scolded like a fool by my instructor?
the answer, i've found out, is yes. for no matter how tired you are, how hard the job is, a smile or a thank you from a patient is worth every single obstacle you hurdle throughout your nursing life.
there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing a patient get better because of how you cared for him. it warms my heart to be in a profession that is, at the same time, a noble vocation. to borrow a statement from one of my favorite clinical instructors, it is in this profession where we see god through our patients and do good things for him.
making it through the board exams was the culmination of everything i had done and prepared for in my college life.
today, i no longer look down on nurses. for i know that what they do--what we do--is not pang-katulong. it is a profession where lives begin, lives flourish and lives end. to have that power and responsibility in your hands is amazing. from my perspective, every aspect of nursing is life.