Three pairs - that’s usually the number of pairs of nursing shoes I go through in a year. Each time I bring a new pair into work and drop the old dilapidated ones I’m exchanging them for into the garbage, I silently giggle and wonder how many miles I’ve walked in them. More impactful than the number of miles they’ve walked, however, would be the amount of wisdom gleaned, or the number of life lessons I’ve learned while in the rooms of those I’ve cared for.
So instead, I call them my school shoes.
I’m so thankful for these shoes and the places they’ve taken me! For the rooms they have walked me into where I’ve had opportunities to thank veterans, hold hands of Holocaust survivors, and for the souls whose lives they’ve allowed me to participate in, even if only for one 12-hour shift. My school shoes have allowed me to stand silent in a room and witness the love expressed to family members and friends on a death bed, and have taken me into places where my opinion and what I believe is not only invited, but appreciated.
It’s in my school shoes that I also get to walk alongside amazing colleagues in our 12-hour shifts, as well as navigate through difficult circumstances and similar experiences with. I work with some incredibly amazing nurses.
When you see us sitting at the desk - we’re often sharing the wisdom you or your family member gifted to us when they gave us a glimpse of their heart. Yes, I think we’re all eternally grateful for that.
My shoes are filthy, and gross, and they probably stink, and I never, ever bring them home. They stay at work in the locker room because I don’t want what I walk through to get into my car, or ever come through the front door of my house. I do, however, hope that the wisdom I pick up along the way permeates every nook and cranny of my being. I hope it changes me and that it somehow helps me think first, before I’m tempted to say any unkind or careless words, helps me see the value of those God has put in my life, and causes me to be intentional about reconciling any strained relationships in my own life.
I had no idea years ago as a nursing student, that patients who are sick and vulnerable would open their hearts up to a nurse and share fears and burdens they might never share with a daughter, a son, or even a husband. What a privilege it is to be the one they choose to trust in a vulnerable moment. I dare not miss the very bigness of that gift; I’d be a fool.
Some of the most important and necessary lessons cannot be learned in a classroom or from a lecture. You just have to lace up your school shoes, always keep a teachable spirit, not be too impressed with yourself, remember how to look another soul in the eyes, and walk into your patients’ rooms. They’ll teach you what matters. Trust me, they will.
And, if you do, you will most certainly learn such things as these ...
1 - A family pet will do just as much good (maybe more?) for a patient’s depression than an anti-depressant will. In fact, the family pet is good for patient, pup, AND nurse!
2 - Mothers need to know that they did a good job. And I don’t care how close to death they are - a mother always recognizes the voice of her child. Believe that, and don’t take it away from anyone. See the burden that family fights cause a mother’s heart, and go home and tell your own loved ones how much they mean to you. And mean it.
3 - Dads need to know their family members will be okay. Recently I stayed silent in a room where a grandfather instructed his daughter to make sure her 10-year-old son (his grandson) got all of his tools, and reminded her to continue modeling a good work ethic for the young man.
4 - Laughter remains the best medicine. Remember the good times. Forget the bad ones; they don’t matter in the end.
5 - Nurses and physicians don’t know everything, we can’t fix everything, and sometimes, God says no. Be thankful for the years we get and don’t be angry or bitter about those we don’t get.
6 - Sometimes, things won’t make sense. It’s not our job as nurses to make things that don’t make sense - make sense. And oftentimes, no words are better than any words. Presence (not presents) is everything.
7 - If you don’t have the cure for cancer, there’s probably nothing you can do to make things any better right now. Cancer sucks, it just does. Bring in the family pup.
8 - People don’t give a hoot about the balance of their checkbook in the end. They care about people. That’s it - people.
I Hope ...
I hope you never, ever put your nursing shoes on the same way again. I hope you, like me, try to remember every time you slip those tired, callused soles into those filthy school shoes, that it is a privilege to be a nurse and to do what we do. And I hope your school shoes take you to people and places where you find it impossible to leave quite the same.
I hope you leave a little wiser, live more humbly, and are a whole lot more thankful for the privilege we both have of calling ourselves, nurses. I really don’t know if there is any other “job” at which we could have the impact on peoples’ lives that we get to have.
Mostly, I hope what often feels like a 12-hour work shift, begins to feel more like what it really is - a very short opportunity to make a really big impact in the life, and perhaps death, of a soul you’ve been gifted to care for.