My journey with bedside nursing is ending. Rather, it is evolving. I have a handful of shifts remaining until I start my new job as a nurse practitioner. I always knew this transition would happen. I planned for it and entered nursing ready to make this change. Now that it is here, my soul is feeling a little uneasy. The comfort of the bedside, of my home, will be gone. This new role brings an abundance of new responsibility, pressure, and expectation. I am ready. Maybe. As I embark on the new beginning, I want to reflect back on what the last few years have meant to me. Grab a beer, some tissues, and a puke bucket (sorry in advance).
I was 18 when I touched my first dead body. I was working as a nursing assistant and the patient died within 15 minutes of my first shift. A coworker whispers to me:
“Grab some wash clothes, a body bag kit, and gloves. Make sure the toe tag is in the kit.”
My heart retracted into my belly and I tasted the acidic fluid of impending vomit. I went to the bathroom, washed off my face, and took a deep breath. If I could do this, I could do anything. I met my coworker back in the room and we began washing the patient’s body. It was eery, beautiful, peaceful, and scary all in one moment. We turned her over, only to hear one final exhale as her lung collapsed. It sounded like a sign of relief. The pain was over. She may rest now. I slipped the toe tag over her toe and starred. My eyes felt wet and stingy, but I didn’t comprehend those tears until minutes later. I went back to home to my dorm, snuck a beer out from under my bed, and reflected back on the day. I knew I would wake up tomorrow and go back for more.
Nursing school was weird. My first clinical rotation consisted of about 10 overly stressed type-A ducklings wandering aimlessly around a hospital unit. I still recall one of my first patients. He was a anatomy professor who recently was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. His shaky hands frightened me. I did not know whether to try to help or just watch him struggle to open his juice. He sensed my unease and talked me through most of his care. He is a very vivid memory for me. He told me about the famous Patch Adams quote that set the precedent for how I wanted to treat patients:
“You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”
Ok, so I am surviving nursing school and things are looking up. I am learning everyday and I got a job as a nurse intern for the summer. The position was in the ICU. I felt prepared! I bought new scrubs and a clipboard. I figured that combination would make me invincible! Let me tell you about the first day on the job. About two hours into the shift, I heard an overhead page for “Code Blue.” A chaos ensues and you can feel the shift in energy in the air. A patient is wheeled into the ICU. A guy grabs me by the arm and says:
“Go stand at the head of the bed and help bag the patient. Then, jump in for a round of compressions.”
I have been in the ICU for two hours. Two hours, people. So, I run over to the room and wedge myself between the headboard and the back wall. I can feel the hot fluorescent light beat down. My gelatinous legs barely hold me up. The patient looked up at me and asked:
“Am I going to die? Please, please don’t let me.”
I did what I thought was right. I looked down, our heads opposite one another, and I told her that she would be ok. She died about 15 minutes later. I am still haunted by that encounter. That was almost 5 years ago, and I see her face in my dreams.
Ok this is getting heavy. Let me lighten things up.
Fast forward to working as a new graduate nurse. Everything I learned in nursing school was lost and I trudged through the dark waters…trying to simply avoid killing someone. The first few months were terrifying as I was trying to find my footing as a nurse. To this day, I have never made a med error. I think a lot of that has to do with me checking the medication/patient 10333259 times before administering the dose. A classic moment in those first few months involved a sweet patient and a not so sweet move by me. The patient could not eat, so she received food through a tube in her stomach. We use a pump to administer the food into the patient’s stomach. One day, I set up the pump, hit the “start” button and left the room. About an hour later, I returned to check on the patient. When I entered the room, I see a chocolate milkshake-esque substance all over the floor. I had forgot to attach the tube feeding to the patient and it ran onto the floor for an hour. I laughed at my blonde moment and quickly became friends with our lovely environment service team for clean up.
“Clean up on aisle 3. Please don’t hate me. Where are the mops?”
Fast forward a few years. I like to call this story “Cat verses chest tube.”
It is time for hourly rounds. As I enter the room, I hear meowing. Depending on what floor I am working on, meowing could potentially be coming from a patient. Weirder things have happened. Anyway, the meow sound is getting louder. I start looking around the room, doing visual checks on the bedside foley bag, IV fluids, chest tube….OH LORD THE CHEST TUBE. Ladies and gentleman, there was a kitten gnawing on the patient’s chest tube like it is slathered in catnip. I don’t have time to process where this fluffy beast appeared from because I needed to focus on the patient. I picked up the kitten, inspected the chest tube for holes (none!!) and assessed the patient. Everyone was stable. Cat. Patient. Chest tube. To this day, I don’t think anyone believes this story. I wouldn’t even believe this story.
Nursing has taught me a lot about myself. I believe most people that are called to this profession are called because they also need healing. It is a symbiotic relationship. I heal as they heal. They heal as I heal. We journey through this madness together.
There you have it. A small glimpse into my nursing pilgrimage. There were dark times, sensational times and everything in between. I am humbled by this journey and I am anxious to continue it in a new role.
Love and Light.
*** I value and respect HIPAA. No patient information (name, location, etc) or identifiers were used in this post. Some information was changed to keep upmost privacy and anonymity.