My Life as a Nurse

The story of my nursing career, from tiny babies to corporate desks Nurses General Nursing Article


My Life as a Nurse

Through the Years

Forty years, how can that be? Today it hit me on my commute into work, punched me right in the gut...forty years. I started out as a still wet-behind-the-ears nurse ready to take on the world one (or twelve) patients at a time. I would supervise an LPN with her 12 patients and I would have my 12 patients and that was the hallway we took care of. We had an aide to empty drainage bags and to take patients to the bathroom and to ambulate patients, but we did the rest. I hung all the IVs and gave all the IV meds for those 24 patients. I mixed up and gave chemotherapy drugs to patients who I would later care for during their death. I prepared Adriamycin, Cytoxan, 5-FU for use intravenously, without gloves, without a hood, without any sort of protection for me or the patient. I drew the correct amount up out of the vial and we weren’t even required to double-check our doses with another nurse. I even gave chemo through a chest tube, more than once. I prayed a lot during that time that I wouldn’t make a mistake. I gave my patients a night time back rub and sat with some while they struggled to fall asleep. Charting could always wait back then.

I took care of patients on blue plastic laminar air flow mattresses and Stryker frames, even some patients who could only get comfortable in a recliner. I turned, I cleaned. I had poop thrown at me and have been thrown up on more than I can remember, I had my bright white nursing cap ripped off my head with the bobby pins still clinging to a few strands of hair. I accidentally filled a shoe with urine from a urine bag that I didn’t get clamped well enough. One of my patients flipped an entire bath basin full of Betadine soap onto my white uniform, for a good reason of course, that she didn’t like to do the soaks her MD had ordered. I have cleaned out bedsores, deep bedsores full of stuff I can’t even identify and have seen white bones shining up from the wound bed.

I held many a patient while they died alone, alone except for me. I gave that last dose of pain meds to ease them into their next life. I watched a mother who was my mom’s age die from cancer that had eaten her breast away. A lot of these deaths were painful and hard to see. I was only in my 20s, yet I held so much in my hands. It was 1980, pulse oximetry wasn’t a standard of care, and my COPD patients had a daily ear oximetry spot check if they were really sick.

When I started in the NICU in 1982 pulse oximetry still didn’t exist for babies and we evaluated how well our patients were oxygenation by pulling back on their arterial lines to see how bright the blood was. Or if they didn’t have arterial lines we just looked at their color, were they grey or pink or blue? If they were pink we lowered the oxygen by 1%. Those were the days before surfactant was approved in the US in the late 1990s...surfactant really changed the outcome of a lot of preemies. Less time on the ventilator, shorter hospital stays; but we were saving babies very young, which in itself led to a higher morbidity rate. More intraventricular bleeds, more eye problems, more gut problems, more airway issues, more feeding difficulty.

The onset of developmental care for preemies came about in the late 1980s while I worked in the NICU as well. We made more developmental appropriate outcomes a possibility by trying to limit the noise, light and tactile sensations for our tiny patients. I attended a national conference to learn how to take care of the most fragile babies developmentally. I got to meet the clinicians who came up with those early protocols to protect the tiniest of brains.

I worked in a pretty big NICU, so I was honored to see a lot of anomalies and sad cases...I saw conjoined twins more than once. I took care of babies without a brain, babies with their heart beating away on the outside of their bodies, babies with tails, babies with wonderful parents who were so saddened by their baby requiring intensive care. I watched baby with a newly placed hours old trach cough it right out on to his chest. I immediately slipped it back in without thinking and probably held my breath for 3 minutes as I waited for the baby’s color to change to pink again. I watched a baby as he perforated his bowel on Christmas Eve, regardless of how many times I notified the resident, I feared for this baby’s life. I held moms in my arms as they cried for a baby they would never take home. I cried too for this life that wasn’t meant to be.

I have sheltered deformed babies from the prodding and staring of residents and medical students. I have held dying babies in my arms when a parent couldn’t or wasn’t in the same hospital. I have helped moms breast feed and have heard all sorts of stories from all sorts of families. I have had families love me and had some hate me.

My own baby was in the NICU where I worked and so I learned why those moms cry when they go home without their babies. And that made me a better baby nurse. I worked during two NICU moves, one to another building close by and one across town.

I moved on to adults, saw my first HIV patient in the mid-1980s, I ran peritoneal dialysis, watched as a man farted as a joke and died immediately from a myocardial infarction. I worked nights during a power outage when all the monitors went out. I worked during a hospital fire, evacuating patients. I took care of adults until I suffered a life-altering back condition that I struggle with even today.

I worked as an IV nurse, starting IV lines on all sorts of people, I started PICC lines, just feeling for the vein, I also was privileged to use an ultrasound to place PICC lines. I was proud of my abilities to find even the smallest vein. I glued lines back together when they tore and they were desperately needed.

During this time I made some good friends in my work and I raised my son while I worked. I worked outpatient pediatric clinics and got to see all sorts of things and again, meet some great people, patients, and their families. I worked with incredible doctors and some who had opportunities for improvement. I moved halfway across the country for a new job.

I have been fired from a job, even escorted out of the hospital with an armed guard (not to worry, I had done nothing wrong to warrant that type of an escort). That was my most painful nursing experience ever, but I survived that. I don’t regret any of my nursing experiences; they all are a part of the tapestry that is my career.

Now I work in an area where I only say what is scripted, where I cannot offer advice to my patients, I must say only what my script says. I never meet my patients, I only talk to them over the phone...It’s been a difficult adjustment. It’s a business job, but it’s alright and I work with some great people. I think it is a fitting way to end my last two years before retirement.

And, I'm Still Not Finished ...

This morning I got a text from an associate on Linked In, asking if I was interested in a traveling nurse position in a small rural hospital near Washington DC. I asked some questions, and it sure sounds nice...

Not sure what I will do, but it sure sounds nice.

CoMoNurse has 38 years of RN experience.

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Specializes in CHF.

Wow! I loved reading this and really felt your passion and true love for your career as a nurse through your stories. Good luck to you in your future endeavors. We need more nurses like you today :)

Thanks Meagan!

What a great story! Thank you.

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

You have had an amazing career. You should write a book! I'd buy it. ?

Specializes in Retired...public health, primary care.

Wonderful and detailed description of your life as a nurse from NICU to the end of an aunt's life . Your skills a d knowledge are so impressive and you have so much to share. I hope as you lean toward retirement that you consider being a mentor to new nurses. Many hospitals have such programs and need the experience and warmth if a nurse who has "been there" to lend moral support to new staff nurses. You are like me , a nurse who is not done yet. I am retired after 50+years in the profession but still volunteer weekly in various capacities. The saying " once a nurse, always a nurse" is certainly true for you as well. Congratulations! And yes, you must do a memoir in your spare time!

Specializes in Med Surg, Parish Nurse, Hospice.

My story is very similar to yours. I practiced as a RN for almost 42 years when I called it quits earlier this year. I remember doing the same things, drawing up chemo in the med room assisting with inserting peritoneal dialysis caths in the treatment room, hanging the hospitals first TPN and chest tubes changing from glass bottle set ups to the plastic pleura vacs.

I was lucky enough to work with a great team for my first 29 years of nursing. I had 2 nurse managers in those 29 years. Our floor was the place to be if you were really sick and not in the unit. My co workers were like a second family. We watched each other get married and have kids. Unfortunately, a few left this world before their time.

After I left my original job, I worked at 4 places. Non was as good as that first place. I saw nursing change as I grew older. By the time I left bedside nursing, we were following a script to speak to our patients. I never got use to following a script and not speaking from knowledge and my heart. My last job was away from the bedside and in the community. i enjoyed it for 5 years. At that point, I was tired of hearing others problems.

In retirement, I do things as I want to, when I want to. I will always be a nurse at heart, but my brain and body don't work as fast as they did years ago.

One of the things I enjoyed the most was washing pts feet. Many people had never had someone wash their feet. You can really get to know someone while washing their feet. Hear their store, what made that person special.

The two hospitals that meant the most to me, the ones I spent the most time at are both gone. Torn down and empty fields now.

Your article takes me back to when I started nursing in 1977...I was a bedside nurse for 17 years. From that I moved on to case management, and to assistant director to a clinical team in revenue management. I am back being a case manager because I enjoy working with patients. Nursing has changed over the years, and some not for the better. But I wouldn't change a thing in my career. And once a nurse, always a nurse.

Thank you for a great article ❤️

Specializes in Retired...public health, primary care.

I, too, worked in case -management for several years and enjoyed it. In fact, I helped convince our large health department that we needed NURSE case managers, not clerical non-medical case managers for our complex patients of all ages in a county primary care clinic system. We eventually had 10 nurse case managers...2 of us certified thru the National Case Management organization. After that I worked in a research program involving nurse home visiting to first time low-income mothers during pregnancy and the first 2 years of life for the baby. Our protocal has been replicated in 42 or more states and a few foreign countries as the NURSE FAMILY PARTNERSHIP CLINICS. Results for both moms and babies is very positive. I am not bragging but just agreeing with you that being a nurse means many different roles and the essence of one's personality and heart as a nurse continues into retirement thru volunteer work.

Specializes in Nurse, Nutrition, Fitness and Lifestyle Coach.

WOW thank you for sharing! My career has spanned 20+ years. I started out as an Air Force medic/first responder and all the nurses I worked with prodded me to go to nursing school. I'm soooo glad I listened. I'm still in love with being a nurse too! There were times when I wasn't in love with it and wanted to quit, I've been fired and escorted out as well! But as a friend of mine passed onto to me: if you don't have a job/career you want to quit once in awhile it's time to move on, ?

It was great reminiscing with you. I graduated in '74, at 26, and did much of the same things. Much of my career however was in the ER, psych and Hospice. I enjoyed being an 11-7 Supervisor and teach other employees, pt's, pt's families and their visitors. I still have my licences and doing volunteer work. Continue to have a great life.

Specializes in NICU/Mother-Baby/Peds/Mgmt.

I started in a level 2 NICU in 82 also, and did intermittently until 2013. Memories...