Having graduated nursing school 12 years ago, the details of my educational experiences have begun to get a little hazy. The drugs, the statistics, the countless conditions and syndromes in unrelated fields, the care plans … so many lessons I sat through as a sleep deprived 21 year old are gone. I remember a few instructors faces, hardly any names. I remember some of the lessons and more of the patients. I remember how hard I worked to get that degree and how proud I was when I walked the stage. I felt blessed to be a part of an honorable profession as well as to have a means to support my family.
I remember being warned of nurse burn-out, of the long hours and the strenuous labor. I remember one arrogant nursing instructor telling us, a room full of new grads excited to embark on our career, “You don’t know anything yet. Everything that you’ve learned so far…is nothing.” And I remember hating her for saying that but knowing that inside of that harsh statement was a sliver of truth. I remember looking at the experienced nurses and wanting so badly to be like them. The real education, I was told, I'd receive "on the job". That was true, and I put my all into learning everything I could as a new nurse.
But there is one lesson from nursing school that I remember clear as day. My instructor for my medical surgical rotation at Shock Trauma discussed with us our patient population. At Trauma you had the VIPs, the rich and the famous, the transfers for the state of art technology, and the city population- those who only ended up there because they were badly injured or they just so happened to live in the city and that world renowned institution was their neighborhood hospital.
"I don't care who is in that bed,” she said. “You are a nurse and your job is to CARE. Check your biases and judgments at the door and you give every patient you see your very best. No one dreams of growing up and sucking cock for $5....of being a drug addict...a prostitute...a murderer...of losing all their teeth by the time they're thirty. If they can't afford health insurance but are sporting a new tattoo and cell phone, if they're here because they were in a gang fight, it's not your concern. Everyone has a story. If you have the time to hear their story, do it! And if you don’t, at least give them your best. You may be the last person they ever see."
I took that lesson to heart. Since that day, I've sat on countless beds hearing countless stories. I’ve always taken the time to build a rapport and establish trust and whenever possible I let them share their life with me. I’ve let them talk and I’ve learned how and when to ask questions. The situations that I’ve encountered are endless. I’ve met educated people from normal socio-economic backgrounds that were addicts. I’ve cared for teens who grew up in foster care that were more mature than the average 30 year old and others who suffered from mental illness and substance abuse as coping mechanisms from their years of abuse. I’ve heard the intimate details of an arranged marriage. I’ve learned the personal views and seen the faces of women who in public quietly peek through the opening of a Burqa. I’ve served celebrities and refugees alike. I’ve been face to face with abuse, neglect, poverty, and fame. I’ve seen the scars of cigarette burns, female circumcision, gun shot wounds and IV drug abuse. I’ve returned to work to find a $100 bottle of champaign waiting for me and been presented a tattered rose and a hand written note with the words “You are my angel” scribbled across it.
I’m not a trauma nurse, I’m a labor and delivery nurse.
And I don’t work in the city. In fact, the county I work in has one of the highest education levels and the most money of just about any county in the United States.
I can tell you first hand that no one is immune to misfortune. No one gets a free pass and no one’s fate is sealed. Money, education, background, race, marital status….a pregnancy….doesn’t protect you from the horrors of the world. Some however, are given a much steeper hill to climb than others. Some are dealt a very heavy hand from the beginning. And when you learn just how heavy that hand is, you gain perspective.
I’ve seen the best and worst days in people’s lives. I’ve seen a miracle baby pull through and a 50 year old finally become a Mom. I’ve held a mother when her child died and I’ve watched a married couple hand over their baby for adoption because they couldn’t afford to care for another child. I’ve supported the legs of a prisoner shackled to the bed, delivering a baby she won’t be allowed to raise. I’ve wiped the tears of millionaires and the faces of the homeless. I’ve helped hundreds of women deliver their babies and I can tell you, they all bleed red. They all sweat. They all cry from pain. And after delivery, all of their breasts fill with milk. For some, the hospital beds and food are the worst they can recall and for others they are the best. For some, our unit holds their most precious memories and others, their darkest nightmares.
With my “on the job” experience, I’ve learned the ins and outs of pregnancy, labor and delivery. I’ve got the drug dosages memorized and obstetrical emergencies have become a learned dance. I’m a good IV stick and a unit resource. For the doctors, midwives, nurses and techs, I am a trusted and experienced clinician. But what I am the most proud of aren’t my clinical skills, anyone can learn those. What nursing has taught me, that I am most proud of, are my human skills.
A patient once told me, “I love you guys (nurses). You guys don’t see color or money or the way I dress. You see a soul. And you care for that soul.”
Whatever biases and judgments I once had … they're gone now.
That is the blessing of nursing.
Of all the things in my life that have taught me compassion, non-judgmentalism, and an understanding for the human spirit, nursing has taught me the most. When you come to me, you come to me looking for a nurse, and that is exactly what you will get. All judgments, any preconceived notions, are checked at the door and I am here to serve. And the more one serves, the easier it becomes to shed that judgment and bias on the every-day. After twelve years of nursing, I am most certainly a better nurse, but more importantly, I am a better person.
I hope I've made a lasting impact on the patients I've cared for...and I do believe I have. But more importantly, they've made a lasting impact on me. My soul has grown and my heart has softened because a nurse taught me a life-long lesson. She taught me to listen to people’s stories. Nursing has allowed me to nurture that in my soul just as much as I've nurtured the souls who find themselves in my rooms.
About author: Amanda has been an OB nurse in the Baltimore-Washington area for the past 12 years. In addition to her nursing career she is also a writer. Find out more about Amanda and see more of her work on her blog : lifelibertyandlibations.com.