In September 1995, I sat on my parents’ bed and cried. Hard.
I begged them to let me come home from college, to let me quit my nursing courses. I cried because the schedule was rigorous, the professors demanded excellence that I feared I didn’t have and because I had to take Physics. Physics, people. Physics is HARD. I cried because I was sure I didn’t have what it took to become a Nurse.
As I lamented, my father looked at me, a sobbing heap on the bed, and spoke words he’d said to me so many times when I was unsure of myself. Words that, to this day, still ring in my ears when I’m nervous or so scared of a new venture that I’m nauseous. He simply looked at me and said, “Show up for classes and act like you know what you are doing until you actually do know what you are doing”. He then piled me back into our blue Celebrity station wagon and drove me back to campus where I showed up the next morning for my classes, pretending that I knew what I was doing.
And, four long, grueling, sleepless years later, I became a Registered Nurse. More importantly, I passed Physics. With an A, bitchachos.
When people hear that I’m a Registered Nurse, so many say to me, “Why didn’t you become a doctor?” or “You are so smart, I can’t believe you didn’t go to medical school”. When the urge to junk punch them subsides, I look at them and tell them “You can nurse a drink and doctor a drink. It’s two different things and I’m better at nursing drinks”. Well, I’m better at nursing METAPHORICAL drinks that represent Nursing as we all know I can throw down the margaritas like nobody’s business but you get the picture.
Over the years, I’ve honed my craft in the usual places like hospital ICUs, Emergency Departments, Trauma Units, and school health rooms and the more unlikely places: grocery store aisles, accident scenes and playgrounds. I’ve watched tiny humans come into the world, held the hands of those leaving the world and have witnessed acts of God so profound they would bring even the staunchest disbeliever to his knees. I have learned how to tell families their loved one has died, I’ve looked into the eyes of a wife and said, “He’s going to be okay, you can breathe now” and I’ve laughed so hard with a patient at 3 am that the other patients complained. My hands have been in the far recesses of the human body, places that no mortal human would willingly put their hands. I’ve cleaned up bodily fluid messes so epic that HazMat teams would run and hide. I’ve saved lives and I’ve lost them in the same day.
And, I’m just one Nurse in a sea of millions who do the same EVERY DAY.
When I was fresh out of nursing school, my first job was on a very busy cardiac step down unit in an inner city hospital. The constant pace, the intense cases and the grueling hours helped me earn my chops as a novice. I spent hours studying when I’d get home, trying to bone up on the latest treatments, looking up terms I’d come across at work that I didn’t understand and just trying to keep up. I reviewed procedures and made sure I went to work prepared for what would come my way. I focused on the tasks of nursing. And, in doing so, often, I missed the beauty and grace that Nursing presents every day.
One busy day, several years later, I was helping a new nurse find her footing. She and I were sharing a patient assignment and I was orienting her to our floor. One of our patients was dying and would not make it through the night. I assigned him and his family to her so that she could learn the art of hospice, the art of helping a patient leave the world in a caring, safe environment. We talked about care plans and family meetings and I told her to focus on him for the evening. I would manage our other patients and be available for questions.
A few hours into our shift, she came to me and said, “He doesn’t want me as his nurse. He keeps asking for the pregnant nurse.” She informed me that he was fighting her when she tried to administer care and that he was insistent that the “pregnant nurse” come to his room. She looked puzzled and asked me to come with her to speak with him.
I followed her into the room and found Mr. “Smith” with his family, gasping for air. When he saw me enter the room, he visibly relaxed and said, “There she is, she’s the one I wanted to see”.
Unbeknownst to anyone, I was six weeks pregnant. Only Hubby and I knew my secret.
As I stood at the bedside with Mr. Smith, I smoothed his hair, leaned into his withered, aged face and gently asked him how he knew my secret. How he could possibly have known. He took my hand and with his other hand, waved at the ceiling, “They told me. The beautiful angels. They told me you are having a boy”. He squeezed my hand and told me he wanted to tell me the angels had said the baby would be safe. I spent the rest of the afternoon with Mr. Smith and his family, preparing him for his journey and realizing that Nursing was so much more than tasks. So much more than bedpans, IVs and medications.
Mr. Smith died three hours later, delivered to the arms of the angels who had divulged my secret to him. And nine months later, our boy was born, much to the delight of our angels and Mr. Smith, I’m sure.
This is Nursing. Beautiful, complicated, divine. Moments where you are covered in blood and bile combined with moments where the existence of God is confirmed to you by way of the dying.
And the irony of having to pass Physics in order to understand the metaphysical is not lost on me.
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