After my hospital shadowing experience, I applied to a nursing program in Australia and was accepted. But right before I applied for a visa (2 months before the program began), the US Department of Education withdrew all financial aid for my program. That was an extremely disappointing time, especially since I had backed out of a friend’s wedding and already had a goodbye party, all with the expectation I would be gone the following year. It was a bad time.
But I kept truckin’. I enrolled in my nursing pre-requisite courses (bio, micro, A&P) at the local college. Unfortunately, each course was a pre-requisite for the next so I had to space them out over a whole year, taking one course a semester. If it had been up to me, I would have taken them all together (except for A&P cause that class was a biATch) so I could move on with my future. But I couldn’t. It was a bad time.
During that year, I kept busy volunteering locally, working part time and taking advantage of a second volunteer position at a local hospice to ensure I had some long-term, healthcare exposure. I worked there for 9 months and the experience was life changing – thinking back I don’t even have the words. Good thing I wrote down my feelings in a journal as I went along. Speaking of, I highly recommend if you want to do nursing, you write down your day-to-day thoughts/experiences in the healthcare environment; you will want to remember them later, if not for personal reflection, for reference in entrance essays for nursing school. Here are just a few excerpts from my journal:
Patients seen: admitted a newborn with encephalopathy, admitted an older, Vietnamese man with Hep C, visited 2 yr old child with degenerative brain disease
Details & Reaction: I’m amazed there are as many healthy humans as there are considering everything that can go wrong. I’m curious how the man got Hep C (he was extremely yellow/almost green). Seeing the newborn was very sad and the brain was exposed and pushed out over half the skull, mother was very young yet calm and stable thinking (she knew her child would die soon), she had 4 children total, two of which already died (how did they die?). Two yr old child lived in a very poor area of town with her mother and two other children (patient slept the entire visit).
What I learned: My Nurse told me hospice is possible for her b/c she knows exactly what she’s treating for in each patient (palliative care). You can not let the patient’s home life or work life or any other factor make you feel too sorry for them or you will carry the sadness with you outside of work, which is bad. You must maintain a certain level of objectivity with patients, especially in hospice.
Patients seen: Gave an intro to hospice for an older woman in the hospital (she suffered from vaginal cancer now spreading to rectum & bladder due to overexposure of radiation in the 80s; she was literally bleeding out to the point of death). Visited woman with low brain functioning due to asphyxiation, bed ridden, her mother was caring for her. Attended a death (announced time of death, called coroner, disposed of medicines, etc.) for a 70 yr old woman with dementia in a retirement home, family was present.
Details & Reaction: The woman with vaginal cancer was cheerful & happy. She told me about her late husband, a regular John Wayne, and how much she loved him. She said she was at peace; her daughter was present and crying. It’s amazing that an 80 yr old woman is taking care of her bed-ridden daughter, daughter looked extremely uncomfortable, had a tracheal tube and was coughing up tons of stuff, tongue hung from mouth, she couldn’t speak. The death at the retirement center was calm, no one cried (my nurse said white families usually don’t cry during deaths, not publicly).
What I learned: You must be flexible and ready for change in nursing; you never know when someone is going to die on you or go into some kind of critical care situation. I told My Nurse now that I’ve been volunteering with hospice for a while, I feel everyone everywhere I go is dying. “Yes,” she agreed, “it’s hard to remember you’re alive when you are made so aware of your pending death every single day. I feel the same way sometimes.” She had no words of wisdom on how to overcome that doomed feeling…
Patients seen: Visited a black woman who lived in absolute filth (hoarding situation), she refused to leave her home for respite care even though she had no one at home to take care of her since her husband had to have eye surgery, she didn’t understand, suffered from severe dementia. Visited a black man who had no AC (in the dead of summer…) but was still very cheerful and in a good mood, family was present. Visited a very old black woman, tiny woman, who lived in a nice home in suburbia, she was in extreme pain due to stomach cancer but her caregivers refused to give her pain medications, she was a sweetheart.
Details & Reactions: At the house without AC, I got extremely nauseous and dizzy and had to go to the bathroom to take a break. I think it was the smells in the home (my nose is very sensitive). I hope this doesn’t happen when I’m a nurse?? I felt so bad for the last woman I saw, the sweet black lady who was in pain. She kept pleading for my nurse to give her pain medication but she couldn’t because the family had refused (they thought the old woman was lying about the pain or that if they gave her meds, she would get addicted). This made me so angry. And wasn’t it ironic that all day I was feeling sorry for the poor patients I had seen but they had good caregivers. Then my last patient who was set up in a great home with lots of money had bad caregivers… and I felt the worst for her.
What I learned: People who are surrounded by good caregivers are very lucky. And don’t ever EVER assume you know someone’s level of pain; it is subjective and you must treat it as such.