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I was in the 8th grade, sitting in my Mema and Pepa’s house when my Pepa asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Without hesitation, I said, “a nurse.” I remember he smiled at me. What he said has long been forgotten, but I knew he was happy with my choice. Apparently, he had much respect and admiration for nurses.
That dream wasn’t realized until 2004. I married when I was 20 years old. We started having kids and my job was being a stay-at-home mom. I intended to go back to college and get my degree once the baby started school. When my ex-husband left, school became that much more important, since I needed to provide for myself and the cherubs. Child support would never be enough for three kids. It was also important to show my children that just because life doesn’t turn out like you thought it would, it’s no reason to give up on your dream and make something of yourself. So I did it. And it was hard! This June will mark 14 years that I have had the privilege and honor of caring for those who can’t care for themselves.
A true nurse, (and I say a true nurse because there are nurses out there who are not “true” nurses) will tell you that what we do is more than a job. It’s not for the money. I guarantee you, more often than not, we work harder than what we get paid. It’s not for recognition. Often, that makes us uncomfortable. It’s a calling. Let me say that again. It’s a calling. It lies within us, this calling. It’s this almost insatiable need to care for those who can’t care for themselves. The need to comfort and provide care, support, and compassion to a total stranger.
How do I know this? Why else would a nurse willingly put themselves into a position where they might be yelled at by distraught families, sometimes physically threatened by patients, and disparaged by doctors who anger easily.
Then, there’s the emotional toll it takes. Fighting for your patient, whether that means fighting to let them go or fighting to keep them here. Losing a patient is losing a part of your heart, wanting to hold their families up while you are shattered inside. Wanting to sit there, in the quiet and stillness, looking at the face of the one you lost, crying silent tears, whispering how sorry you are for failing them and walking out of that room while sticking a smile on your face, because someone else needs you.
You tell yourself you will grieve later, when you have time. But you never have time, because there will always be a need that has to be met. Those of us who have heard this call never quite understood what we signed up for. It’s that need to be of service that keeps us coming back, day after day, year after year, shift after shift. We don’t need recognition for what we do. Our fulfillment comes from all the smiles, laughter, hugs, and thank you’s. It comes from patients and families requesting you to be their nurse, the patient that goes home, the patient that comes back to see you, the patient who leaves this world and goes to their Heavenly home, whole, healed, and new while you were holding their hand and holding their family up.
Those quiet moments when it’s just you and your patient, talking and learning. You find yourself soaking in their spirit knowing you are having a moment with them that will change you for the better, and being so thankful you can barely hold back the tears or put into words what you are feeling.
I was given an award for something I did in Denver for a patient. I have said multiple times that I am no one special. I am to my family and friends, though in getting this award, I was simply doing my job. I just happened to be the one caring for this patient. Better than this award is that the patient had a good outcome. That was and is reward enough. Being recognized was humbling and slightly uncomfortable. What went through my mind and has continued to stay there are all the patients I have cared for. I can’t remember them all, though there are a handful I will never forget.
I will never forget those I lost, and those I helped on their journey to recovery. I will never forget all the nurses I have worked with and watched. I’ll always remember the nurses I learned from and those who I learned how not to treat patients. I thought about my parents and hoped my Daddy was watching, elbowing my grandparents, saying, ”That’s my girl!” I wished my mom was there to watch while knowing a phone call would have to do. I thought about my kids and how important it was to show them that you have to be able to take care of yourself and love what you do. I hope they are as proud of me as I am of them. Finally, I thought about how blessed I am to have crossed paths with so many people, patients and nurses alike who have guided me along this journey that is my life. I’m truly grateful I listened to and answered the call to this profession.