Nurse Life: Behind The Scenes
Recently it dawned on me. I’ve been a registered nurse for 16 years and a student nurse for 4 years. Which means that for the last two decades I’ve been living the nurse life. Including all of the secret work we do behind the scenes.
I can vividly remember my very first patient and my assignment. I can tel you her name and diagnosis. The care plan in place and how nervous I was going in to the room to say good morning.
When I think about all of the people I’ve cared for over the last twenty years it boggles my mind. Especially all of the moments I was present for during a patient’s most vulnerable moment. All the way through to other patient’s most uplifting amazing life moments. This mix is what keeps bringing me back for more.
Student Nurse Life
I technically stared my career back when I was a student nurse. I worked nights and weekends with a home health agency to make money for school and rent. The home health company placed me with a couple of very special families to provide respite for their kids who had tracheostomys and ventilators to keep them breathing. I’d show up when everyone was heading to bed and leave in the morning before the coffee started brewing.
I was 21 years old and still going to school full time but quickly learned a lot of medical skills. Nurse life was now all about tube feeds and dressing changes and how to entertain a 9 year old while changing their airway tube. My very first shift I worked with a particular family, the mother laid out a turtle neck sweater for me to dress her daughter in for school. A fitted turtle neck for someone who breathes through a trach tube in their neck, connected to a vital breathing machine. Think about that one for a minute. I sweated and I swore in my head but I persevered.
There was the time I was told to give a bath to one of the kid’s who had a trach, ventilator and a tube feed. This little girl needed to be carried flat like a plank of wood from her bedroom to the bathroom. There was no lifting equipment or other person to help. Somehow we made it happen and even had fun in the process. It’s nursing memories like this that keep me moving forward and proud to be in the career that I am.
Nursing Moments That Change You
A pivotal moment for me came early on in my nursing career. A child I had taken care of for two years died. While his death was expected it was still painful. It also made me so very aware of the huge role nurses have on family health and well being. It’s not just about completing the necessary medical tasks and the to do list, it’s more than that. It’s well rounded and multi faceted care.
When I arrived at his funeral there were so many nurses in attendance who had taken care of him over the years. All of us looked equally heart broken as the friends and family there. If you didn’t know who was who, you would never guess that these nurses were not the actual family members.
Becoming A Maternity Nurse
I switched my path to working with childbearing families early in my career. I remember a seasoned non maternity nurse telling me I was escaping the reality of nursing by working with babies. I would just be having healthy normal patients and healthy normal experiences. However, this is where the secret lives of nurses really comes to fruition.
Ask any labour and delivery RN about the work they do. For the most part being a maternity nurse is about 98% happy work and 2% devastating. When the 2% comes it is the worst of the worst and makes a mark on your own heart forever. It is the work you take home when your shift is over. The work you remember for years to come.
Any nurse that has been involved with the death of a baby will remember the details from their first experience with loss. In fact, there are details of every single stillbirth or loss that I’ve been involved with that I still remember. While it was well over 12 years ago I still remember the name of the mother and the sounds that escaped her when we couldn’t find her baby’s heart beat at 38 weeks of pregnancy.
Nurse Life Memories
There was the baby that was born much too soon. I wrapped that baby up in a warm blanket and held them in my arms. until its heart stopped. I will not forget the shift I was working back on a cool January day. A full term baby was born with no heart beat. Together with the parents we bathed and dressed their baby. The grieving parents sobbed. Their hot tears splashed on my skin as we wrapped the baby in a swaddling blanket together.
These are the darkest moments, the 2%. The moments that really make me feel like being a nurse is the truly the most incredible work. When these deep moments conclude nurses will often temporarily escape to an empty room. We cry our own big wet tears and process the moment. Nurse life means you dry your eyes and walk back out into the hallway to get back to the 98%.
Read more nurse related blog posts here: