Stop...and Watch the Fireworks

Updated | Published
by PennedbyRN PennedbyRN (New)

Has 3 years experience.

This article reminisces on one of my first holiday's working as a nurse, and stresses the importance of slowing down and connecting with others during the hectic holiday season.

How do you connect with your patients?

Stop...and Watch the Fireworks

Fireworks. That’s what I remember most about my first holiday shift as a new grad nurse. This would be the first-ever New Year’s Eve that I hadn’t spent celebrating with family or friends…

Driving into work that night, I couldn’t help but feel a tug of sadness at the thought of my loved ones gathering close together around the TV, watching the big ball drop as they sip on sparkling champagne. I took a resigned sip of my hot coffee instead and drove down the lonely freeway towards the hospital.

Because I was new, there weren’t a whole lot of familiar faces on my floor that night. I felt alone, unknown, and a little bit resentful at having to be at work on what was a fun night for the rest of the general population. Being a novice nurse, I was also dealing with a whole lot of nerves that made my insides feel like they wouldn’t stop shaking.

I walked into my first patient’s room, and a little old man was buried so deeply under his blankets, I could hardly see him.  As I watched him sleeping, it momentarily occurred to me that this man was all alone too; could it be that he was experiencing similar feelings of loneliness? “Well, no time to think about that,” I said to myself. Changing mental gears quickly, I focused on the task at hand. “I need to get this first med pass and assessment done so I won’t get too far behind.” I bustled about the room in my brand new blue scrubs, unruly hair already falling out of my French braid, barely asking him any questions beyond, “What would you rate your pain level at this time?”

He woke briefly to answer my brisk questions with a slow, calm, southern drawl and an expression on his face that made me feel like he was studying me; taking note of my every action. Of course, this studying made me feel even more nervous, and even though he spoke kindly throughout the whole interaction, I tried to get out of his room as quickly as I could.

A short while later I popped into the breakroom for a quick sip of water and noticed one of my coworkers eating a snack looking very sad. I thought about asking if everything was okay, but no, no time for that, “I need to answer two different call lights and I still haven’t even finished my first med pass let alone charted a thing!"

As the night went on I felt myself becoming more and more overwhelmed and I began to sink more and more into myself. I limited conversations with patients, was running from room to room and felt like I could burst into tears at any moment. It was getting close to midnight. I headed into the room with the little old man to check off a couple more tasks from my list of things I needed to get done. As I hurriedly scanned his armband and each med one by one, I noticed him watching me again with a small smile on his face. He had so many wrinkles it was hard to make out all of his features, but I could tell he had very kind eyes. I wondered what he was thinking about but didn’t bother taking the time to ask. In my rush to hand him his med cup, I knocked a cup of water all over his bedside table. “Ugh!! Just what I need right now, another mess to clean up.”

I rushed to grab paper towels, and as I began to clean up the water, a weathered hand grabbed my own and stopped me in my tracks. I looked up at this sweet man in surprise and he said to me, “Sweetheart, thank you for all you do. You are doing a fantastic job tonight and I am so lucky to have you as my nurse.”

Unexpected tears welled up; his kind words came like a breath of fresh air in the middle of my stress-filled night. “Sweetheart, look out the window; I see fireworks!!” He drew my attention to the window at the far side of the room.  Sure enough, as I turned to look out the window a big burst of sparkling color appeared in the night sky. We sat there silently together for a minute gazing out at the lit-up sky. It wasn’t until I came back to reality that I realized this little old man was still holding my hand. Giving it a tender squeeze, he said with glistening eyes, “I sure am glad I’m not alone this New Year’s Eve.” He made my heart smile.

How amazing that even in my hurriedness, I had been able to impact this man in some way, even if it was for a brief moment. This realization made me want to slow down and take a more intentional approach with the way I was treating the people around me. From this first of many shared experiences with my patients, I began to understand more about the special role nurses get to play in people’s lives.

Many times, we nurses are more than just someone’s caretaker, we are their family that couldn’t be there, the friend they dearly miss, or the companion they need in the hard time that they are currently experiencing. Our hand-holding somehow translates into the loving hand of another. I think that is a very important thing to remember, especially around the holidays. Making each shift special in some way for the patient can help an RN’s work feel more purposeful.

As a new nurse, the phrase “slow down” was a very important motto for me to live by. When we take a moment to breathe, pay attention to those around us, and slow down instead of frantically rushing around, it’s amazing how much more we can accomplish. Taking the time to notice the patient as a person (and not just a patient) allows us to have much more of an impact not only on each individual we care for but our coworkers as well.

So, to all nurses working this holiday season, I want to encourage you to talk to your coworkers, talk to your patients, take the extra minute to slow down and observe how you can make each interaction you have with people intentional. This will not only get you out of your own head, but it will also provide more meaning and purpose to each shift you work.

Many times, intentionality can be found in the small things, like saying one kind sentence to someone, bringing a patient an extra blanket or their favorite snack without being asked. Many times, it is just asking someone how they are doing. I have found that, more often than not, if you are vulnerable with someone, and then give them the space to be vulnerable as well, they just might be experiencing similar things as you.

Younger nurses, reach out to other younger nurses, be there for each other; there is so much power in saying to one another, “You are not alone in this”. Older nurses, reach out to the younger generation and relate with them, lend a helping hand or even a shoulder to cry on. This holiday season, I hope everyone takes the time to slow down, reach out, and watch the fireworks.

PennedbyRN

I have worked on a Cardiac-Medicine Stepdown Unit, Covid Step-down Unit, and a Labor and Delivery unit. Currently pursuing nurse journalism.

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