Nursing. It’s becoming a defining word to describe my character; a short word for a potentially damning situation. And like all the other defining words that have come to shape my person over the years (blunt honesty, organized, moody), “nursing” will have to join the ranks as either a rejected, accepted or consuming descriptor of my soul.
Let’s assume school isn’t a contributing factor to my misery, which of course it is. I don’t want to drown you in all the tedious, pointless details/people I’m having to deal with right now. Let’s just say, there is a ton of drama (some of it is my fault due to that blunt honesty thing I’ve learned to “accept” as part of who I am). Group projects have turned sour, instructors are angry, students are forming mutinies. It consumes so much valuable energy but that’s only half the battle.
I spend 12 hours on my feet watching pus ooze from wounds, blood squirt out of penises, diabetics get feet amputated, and those are the easy ones. I see people suffer, die slowly, painfully, teens go through miscarriages, kids sent home with abusers, nurses & doctors battle their egos until there’s nothing left of the patient, ethical principles tossed out the window for monetary purposes on the bigger scale, pure laziness on the smaller scale. And the public is clueless. Clueless to what really happens in hospitals. Clueless about what nurses really do.
How do you leave that environment to meet your friends for dinner and listen to them talk about how difficult it is to train their dog to poo outside? How do you smile, listen and respond pleasantly when the only thing on your mind is the look on her face when the doctor said he isn’t going to make it. He’s laying there right now. You, just one hour ago, placed your stethoscope over his heart to listen to the soft lub-dub rhythm of his very life. She’s holding his hand, stroking his hair, saying goodbye while he breaths a little bit shallower each minute. You’re sitting sipping wine on a patio while someone’s life is slipping away just down the road in a tiny, dim hospital room.
Someone interrupts my thoughts:
How was your day?”
– “Oh, fine, I watched someone die. Just another day.”
– “Oh. That sucks. Well maybe next week will be better. Can I try some of your pad thai?
It’s laughable if it weren’t so depressing. Even other nurses have a hard time talking about how they really feel in those moments of sadness. If I stop for a moment to think on it long enough, I can’t function. So I do what every person must do and I keep going. But each time the next 12 hour shift approaches, I feel the wave of panic come. I want to hide, avoid it at all costs, run away to a safe spot where none of this exists. The safe haven of childhood; I long for it so badly it hurts.
People say, “It’s not that bad, not everyone dies, right?” No, not everyone does. People leave the hospital of course. But they don’t necessarily leave because they are better. They leave because we stabilized an acute issue. They’ll return to their smoking habits, Big Macs or worse, they’ll go back to drugs, alcohol and abuse. In short, I’ll be seeing them again very soon. It makes your effort feel pointless.
People also say, “What about those patients who really affect you positively. That makes it all worth it!” I’ve had those patients. I had a man tell me he was going home to die, the cancer was too serious and then he looked at me, took my shoulder, “Thank you. You’ve been by far the brightest light through this experience.” Why isn’t that enough? Why doesn’t that precious moment of shared humanity heal all the pain? I think about him sometimes. I wonder when he died, if he was alone or scared or happy or in pain.
Around 30-50% of new nurses elect to change positions or leave the profession entirely after only 3 years. Many of my peers soon to graduate are not looking forward to “becoming a nurse” after the NCLEX. They are looking for other options. It’s depressing. Which makes it that much harder when everyone says, “Oh, whooray you’re almost done, aren’t you so happy?!” cause the honest answer is no. Actually. I’m not happy. I’m beaten down and I’m not even a nurse yet.
Years down the road I’ll feel different, I’m sure. But right now this is my life. It’s been my life for 2 years now. And this is why the only thing I crave after work is a quiet, dark space to reinvent myself before stepping out into the normal world again. We all need our gloomy place.