the “privilege” of nursing

Alright- for all my nursies out there, here is the first highly anticipated nursing related post! I certainly have not forgotten about you.

I recently watched that new TV Show “Nurses” (don’t know if you peeps have seen it yet, but if it’s not high on your list I can probably save you some time… delete your PVR recording). I don’t know why but against my better judgment I had high hopes for it (inevitable plot twist, my hopes were incorrect). Besides all the factual inconsistencies though, there was one component that I actually did feel they portrayed well- most nurses go into the profession because they want to genuinely help others.

We’ve all heard the saying “nursing is a calling” bla bla bla, you know the rest. While I don’t want my girl Flo to be rolling in her grave, I do think it’s important to qualify that statement though with being a nurse is about more than that. It is about caring, and kindness, and doing the right thing. But it’s also about resiliency, grit, being creative and innovative in the worst of moments, and doing what needs to be done.

Any nurse knows the word “burnout” (more on that in another post), because you have likely seen it or lived it yourself. And why is this? We constantly give and give so much to others that often ourselves lack that same attention and self care. We also compensate for the numerous terrible things we see and experience with dark humour and coping mechanisms that most people wouldn’t understand.

It’s no secret that nurses see the “worst of the worst” a lot of the time. While doctors may see some parts of it, as nurses most of the time we spend the most time with patients and families, developing those connections and relationships with them. Often in the most difficult moments of their lives. And because we do this every single day, with almost every person we meet because we want to help, sometimes that means we close ourselves off to having feelings as one of those coping mechanisms. Outwardly it may seem that we don’t care or aren’t interested, but anyone who has been a nurse for long enough knows that without those boundaries, you go down a dangerous path of emotional and moral distress, taking home with you a lot of the burden from these patients and families.

Whether there has actually been a “shift” through my thus far very short nursing career due to the change in healthcare or I am just more aware of it now, it sometimes feels like we forget what’s actually important. In a climate where there is so many changes, people are frustrated with things that cost us more time or make more work for us, but losing sight of what really matters- what does it mean for our patients? One of my nursing preceptors and mentors was incredibly smart, humble, but a force to reckoned with. An incredible nurse who would stand up and speak out for patients and their needs, even if it wasn’t the “easy thing to do” for us as nurses. THAT is the nurse I have always wanted to be, and still want to be.

It can be exhausting, fighting the “good fight”. You don’t make many friends sharing your opinions or changing practice a lot of the time. As nurses and as human beings we don’t like change. Nurses often get a bad reputation for “speaking out”- sure, sometimes because we don’t like the changes, but normally when we complain or stand up to things it’s not because it makes OUR lives easier as nurses. When it comes down to it, it has impacts on our PATIENTS. I’m not saying that other professions don’t do this (and don’t get me wrong I work with and some of my best friends are some incredible physicians and other inter professionals in healthcare). But when I think about why I wanted to be a nurse- its very essence is in being that support and that advocate for my patient(s) and there is hardly any other role that has that opportunity quite like nursing.

I always thought it would be the “old nurses” that would be jaded and hardened. But lately, I have seen that is not always the case. In the past year I have even seen some of those qualities in myself which I didn’t like and has made me think about this a little bit. I always said I never wanted to be that nurse, So why is this our go- to reaction? Our instinctual reaction to all of this over time is to become hardened, and we’ve cultivated a profession that breeds it and encourages it. I’ve also done it. For the actions of the few parents or families that yell and scream at you out of displaced anger are the ones that make you shut down, and close off the part of your heart that once made you the best nurse you could be.

The past while though, because I was starting to feel a bit jaded and maybe burnt out, I’ve done some self reflecting. Especially in the setting where I currently work, we see awful and terrible things. The worst day of children and families’ lives is often the day they come through our door. While are just “at work” for twelve hours, doing our job- this is someone’s life. It’s both a scary and humbling thought I think.

We normalize a great deal of the things we see to be “professional” working with patients and families. Business is business- setting up the inotropes, doing the compressions, intubating the patient- it’s not the first or the last time I will do any of this. But for that family- this is likely their one and only experience with any of that. Just before starting as a new nurse in paediatric ICU my uncle passed away- he was taken to hospital and in the ICU very briefly. My dad and I as the only two people with any healthcare background knew all too well what the probable outcome would be when he was taken to hospital by ambulance. Sitting in that room with a bunch of doctors using all their medical jargon, was so overwhelming. Even for me, but looking at every other member of my family who had no clue what they were saying- that we needed to say goodbye.

I’d like to think my experiences (this among a couple other family members’ and my own health journeys on the other side of the bed) make me a better nurse. I walked into nursing knowing that old statement rings true “people won’t remember what you said or what you did, but will remember how you made them feel“.

So when I try to put myself in the shoes of my patients or their families, it feels a bit more meaningful remembering that sometimes those small acts of kindness mean the most. Those are certainly what I remember. We sometimes forget that it is our privilege to work and be with families through these terrible awful things. Because we see it “all the time” we normalize things but forget that it is likely the most horrible thing that will ever happen to someone or their child.

So just some food for thought as you are scrolling through this on your night shift or getting yourself pre-caffeinated for the day. What you do every day matters. It may be one day for you, but may very well be the day someone lives over and over again for the rest of their lives.

– C

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