Nominated for a clinical excellence award that required an exemplar, I had to submit a written account of a clinical interaction in which I, as a nurse, made a difference in a patient's life. That set me to thinking, really examining my career as a home care nurse. What do I do that makes a difference in someone's life?
Once, or maybe twice, I may have actually saved a life. Most of the time, I make a patient more comfortable, or help their return to whatever optimal state of health they can enjoy. More often than not, I make patients more uncomfortable with diet teaching that borders on preaching, wound care that is rarely a fun way to start the day, or my insistence that they must participate in their recovery because I cannot do it for them. But I always try to bring them a smile, friendliness and an attitude that I care.
Recently I stopped at the home care agency office where a woman introduced herself as Donna, the new nurse.
I replied, I'm an old nurse. How true that is! I am an old nurse. It's been thirty-nine years since I waited impatiently for Board results. There's got to be some joke: Old nurses never die, they just keep on...whatever. I can't even think up a quick or funny punch line. What do old nurses do?
The answer goes back more than forty years to why I became a nurse, and then begs an even greater question. How can an eighteen-year-old even decide what she'll do for the rest of her life?
Somehow I knew then that I wanted to help people. And that's still what I want to do today. There are millions of ways to help people. Why nursing? After thirty-nine years, I can't answer that question. I certainly know why not nursing.
Nursing was, and still is, hard work for long hours with little recognition, respect, and limited pay. There's never an end to the demands or the paperwork. It is an evolving profession with tremendous changes over the past four decades both within and from outside its ranks.
You don't know when you're eighteen that you're buying into a lifetime commitment. Nursing becomes a twenty-four-hour job. A nurse can't leave it at the door. My children, now all adults, know they can call me anytime with, Mom, the baby's got a rash. What do you think it could be, and what should I do about it? I somehow always know the right answers, or at least I have the calm tone they need at that moment.
At a wedding a few weeks ago, the father of the groom collapsed from a massive heart attack. I performed CPR until the EMS team arrived. They managed to revive him long enough to get him to the hospital. He only lived two days longer but that was enough time to allow family members to come from out-of-town. You always ask yourself if you could have done something differently, something more effectively in circumstances like this. I knew I had done all that I could. I couldn't save his life, but I could give his family a few precious hours to say good-bye.
As a nurse, it's often not what you do, but who you are that counts. Why nursing? Because I might just be the one person who does make a difference in someone's life. Not so that I can write an exemplar about it.
It's not what I do, but who I am. It's taken me forty years to realize nursing isn't a career but my life.