Disclaimer: While the title to some readers might sound like this is going to be a negative account of nurse experiences, I assure you it is not, and I truly hope as many people as possible read it, but especially nurses. I know it’s long, but I implore you. I want you to know that you have many times been my saviors. I simply suck at titling things sometimes. I apologize.
Hello out there,
I have been in bed all day and in and out of sleep because I have a sinus infection on top of the flu. I don’t know what it is; give me a needle to the spine, anaphylaxis, or even rip out my uterus and I can kind of handle it. But a sinus infection with a bit of a stuffy nose, a puffy eye and sorer-than-normal bones? I will whine non-stop for a week. I’m not sure how my boyfriend hasn’t smothered me with a pillow yet…maybe I just gave him the idea to, though. *ominous music*
Anyway, I digress. Here’s what I actually want to talk about. I have this amazing friend named Chris. I’ve known him for quite a while and we have a slightly odd friendship, but it is a remarkable one that I am so incredibly fortunate to be a part of. Chris, since I have known him, has only ever wanted to do one thing; okay, well two things actually. The first is to be Captain America. The second is to be a nurse. This isn’t just what he goes to school for. It’s what he craves, what he lives for, what he is fighting for. I have met many people who are passionate, but rarely have I ever met a person as passionate as him.
Occasionally, I try to help him with his homework. I am not nearly as intelligent as he is, but I am fairly talented at making it easier for people to wrangle their thoughts and get their minds turning. In a weird way, it’s kind of what I live for. I’m not sure if he knows it or not, but I thrive on the times he (and others) ask me to help in these ways, whether it’s just talking about something, or editing papers for grammar mistakes. I adore it. Call me a weirdo, but I think it’s just the greatest.
Earlier today Chris and I faced a question, that was possibly the hardest one he’d ever have to try to answer on his journey to becoming what I think will be one of the world’s greatest nurses (I’m not bias at all…nope). The question was, what is nursing? Now, to tell you the truth, I didn’t have the slightest idea where to start. Despite my young age, I have had more experiences than most will have in a lifetime. In some ways, that isn’t something I am proud of. But in many other ways, especially in times like these where I am faced with a question that is far bigger than myself, I can often times start with myself, and the stories my life has collected, because they teach me the most amazing, if not painfully learned lessons.
To estimate, I have had a hundred (if not more) different experiences with a hundred different nurses. But one that has changed my life was my experience this summer at Stanford, where I had my hysterectomy. As most people who read my blog regularly know, I hid my hysterectomy from most of my friends and my family. I also had to fight doctors for it, despite it being a medical necessity. I was hospitalized for five days, and it was five of the hardest days of my life. I am absolutely sure the pain, both mental and physical, would have killed me if not for three of the eight nurses that cared for me. Don’t get me wrong; overall, all of the nurses were great. But there were three who were utterly astounding beyond compare.
The first was Anjelica, who I assume was not much older than I. She was the first one I actually met upon my admittance into the ward after I had recovered from the anesthesia… except for the fact that I really hadn’t recovered from the drugs at all. Anesthesia, I was told, really messes with your body as well as your short term memory. I was not only given that, but also given an anxiety medication to prevent one of my famous panic attacks, as well as intravenous Benadryl to prevent anaphylaxis. I believe the medical terminology for all those drugs being pumped into me is, “getting seriously fucked up.” Therefore, I barely remember anything from the first time meeting her. I remember waking up, crying and confused because I hadn’t the slightest idea where I was, and my body and brain both felt twisted. That apparently was not the whole story. Later I was told that what had really happened, from the eyes of my childhood friend Stan, was that he walked into the room, where I was crying uncontrollably about the fact that I was terrified of being alone. Anjelica was sitting on the bed with me, holding both my hands, trying to choke out comforting words through her own tears. I later on could briefly remember this image, only a sliver of it; but that sliver makes my heart glow like sunshine, and I am certain it will for the rest of my life.
When I finally woke up in a far less drugged state, I immediately began to have contractions like a pregnant woman (despite doing the antitheses of having a baby). My doctor warned me of hemorrhaging, of death, of infection, of just about anything that could go wrong in surgery. She did not, however, mention that I could have contractions so severe that they would cause me to scream in a hospital bed and twist in agony while nurses scrambled to find me a drug that would make the aliens in my abdomen go back the the hellish planet they came from. It was eight hours before they finally got me to stop convulsing, and I was more exhausted than I had been in any other time in my life. Thankfully, three of my dearest friends, Maya, Jared, and Brian, were there until 1 A.M. and refused to go home, which is quite impressive in itself. But they were only there because my nurse, Anjelica, ignored the 8 P.M. curfew and allowed them to stay with me on a night that I was not at all sure I’d live through.
The second nurse was Marie. She was a bit older than I, and throughout my stay she titled herself my “hospital mother.” She wore that title well. My surgery was in July, and while the hospital temperature was extremely well controlled, I found myself burning up every night. So, every night Marie would tie my chest length hair up into a bun to get it off my sweating shoulders and face, and every morning she would take it down and comb it so that I would look nice for my visitors. She would stay with me as long as she could when she had the time, because she knew that I was struggling with the fact that I wanted my mother there, but that she did not support my decision. I found out that Marie had three young kids herself, so why she wanted another was beyond me, but she was the most perfect “hospital mother” I could have ever dreamed of.
In hospitals there are nurses, and then nurse assistants, which I also had many of. However, the last few days that Marie was my daytime nurse, she always had the same assistant. A man named Mark, my age, who was extremely attractive and just as sweet as she was. After he had left my room one day, while Marie was injecting me with more Dillaudid, she said that she had made sure he was my assistant because, to quote her, “I thought you would appreciate some eye candy during your stay.” I mean, come on. What is greater than that?
The last incredible nurse I had was Angel. Her tag said Evangeline, which I think is a truly gorgeous name, but she went by Angel. I only had her for one night, and it just so happened to be the one where during the day, a less wonderful nurse gave me a drug that caused me to trip worse than one would at a Grateful Dead concert. I was extremely upset that this had happened, because the nurse had injected me before telling me what it was, and I could have gone anaphylactic. Thankfully, I just hallucinated that I was swimming out of my body. That’s…totally normal, right?
Angel’s shift started right towards the end of my four hour hallucinatory field trip, and I immediately told her that I did not want that drug anywhere near me. She was very apologetic and promised to fix the problem, and she did in a snap. What really stood out the most though was that night, as always, was harder than the days. I am 25 years old and terrified of the dark as well as being alone in strange places. I don’t think I could even stay in a hotel alone. That being said, I told Angel that I was scared, and her solution was that whenever she was free and working on her computer in the hallway, she would sit in front of my door specifically, so that if anything happened to me, or if I got scared, she would be right around the corner. This is something I am sure many nurses would do for a child patient. But for an independent, adult woman who just had a very adult procedure, many would find me a bit strange, as they have before. Sure enough, throughout the five or six times I woke up during the night in a mild panic, every time I looked out the door, I saw her shadow on my hospital room floor. And I heard, through all the sounds of the ward, the gentle clicking of her keyboard. It felt like the most comforting sound I had ever heard; a real live angel working through the night.
When I am 30, 50, 60, even 80 years old, I will still remember these stories and what these nurses did for me. How loving, compassionate, and selfless they were without even taking one second to consider if they were “crossing a professional line” or would have better things to do then sit at my bedside while I cried about the damaged relationship between my family and I, or the anger I felt towards my eternally sick body. Anjelica did not just comfort me when I first met her. She had raw empathy, and shared in my pain. She allowed herself to feel my raging sorrow completely, and I know for a fact that it was a painful experience for her. But she allowed it. Marie, again, without any reservation at all, took the job of being my “hospital mother,” and made me feel loved and cared for. Angel watched over me while I struggled not only with sleep, but with my entire existence.
So, back to the beginning. What is nursing? I couldn’t tell you for certain, really. I believe that ultimately that question is full of a million, maybe even trillion answers, and each one would be completely different, because it’s all subjective. But as a patient, I believe that nursing is the most selfless and most trying career in the world. Doctors see their patients for a few minutes a day. Nurses spend 12 hour shifts with their patients per day. The good nurses are medically attentive, intelligent, and prompt when you need them. But the nurses that are remembered are not the smartest ones; they are the most kind ones, the ones that allow themselves to feel knowing that it puts themselves at the risk of brutal, emotional exhaustion. The nurses that cry with me are the nurses that have, as I said before, added light to my very broken heart.
Chris told me that nursing has a pretty high fail rate; so many people just can’t take the physical and emotional challenges of it, which I completely understand. I know I certainly couldn’t do a fourth of their jobs. He also told me that they have a very small chance of happy instances, and that many of the situations they encounter are not just negative, but are devastating. And again, I completely understand that. There was no happiness in Anjelica crying with me the first day I entered her ward. There is no happiness in a nurse having to watch someone’s child die, or someone bleeding out from a horrible accident. Nurses take tragedy day after day, and brave it all, but not without consequence. However, I hope that they know that while they are in those horrific situations every day, the nurses that show love towards us, the patients, are invaluable to our lives. The ones that don’t just serve our bodies, but serve our souls, may not bring us temporary happiness in the moments they are with us, but leave us with permanent happiness, because they were there with us helping, treating, loving, and feeling with us in some of the worst parts of our lives. They do all this, while asking for hardly anything back. And most of the time, they don’t get much back. The words I have written aren’t nearly enough, but I hope it’s at least a tiny something that lets nurses know how spectacular they are.
What is nursing?
To me, it’s being a hero that Captain America could never possibly match.
If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied,
Illuminate the No’s on their vacancy signs.
If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks,
Then I’ll follow you into the dark.
Then I’ll follow you into the dark.