On Being A Nurse

Darlene H. Glover, RN, MSN, CEN

With all due respect, the Peace Corps is not “the toughest job you’ll ever love”… nursing is.
I should know. I’ve been an Emergency Nurse for 24 years. This is my story, although it is
the voice of nurses everywhere…doing what we do.

Nursing will produce knuckle-whitening, pulse-racing, palm-sweating fear on a regular basis,
no matter how “seasoned” you are…
when the patient’s blood pressure is falling and the IV start depends on our expertise….
when the man with crushing chest pain is our neighbor…
when the baby is coming and the doctor has not yet arrived.
The patient will look at us with trusting eyes and ask if they are going to die….
and we will meet their eyes and answer “not on my watch”.

We will hold a mother’s hand as she views her son’s broken body
and begs him not to leave her although she knows he already has.
We will weep with her for all the broken, unsalvageable sons
and we will silently curse our dead-of-night phone call
that changed the sleep of this parent forever.

We will accept your howls of protest at your too-warm room and your too-cold soup
and recognize you are protesting your terminal prognosis at age 39,
or the cruelly unfulfilled promise of motherhood,
or the permanent loss of body symmetry you have known since puberty.

While the physician cures your disease, we will care for your body, your mind, and sometimes, your soul.
In the deep dark of night, we will hear your confessions and seal our lips in the light of day
to all you have confessed.
We will pray with you and for you, even if we are not religious,
because we have seen people die despite our best efforts and patients live against all odds
and we know that what we do is not all there is to healing.

We will treat you with respect, although you remind us of alcoholic uncles
or abusive ex-husbands or the school bully who plagued us until we moved away.
We will do so because you are someone else’s uncle or someone else’s husband
and they care about you or because no one cares for you at all.

When duty calls, we will rise from our Thanksgiving table or warm bed
to see you safely to another hospital, and while the sirens wail above our heads,
we will whisper softly about all the reasons to hold on….
like Thanksgiving dinner and your own warm bed.

We will hold the fragile body of an elderly woman whose relatives
have abandoned her to her dementia and tell her it is OK to let go and follow the light.
We will hold a battered child and a battered woman with equal compassion
and remind them they are blameless. We will hold babies as small as our palm
and urge them to choose life.
Sometimes we will hold each other.

We will laugh at macabre jokes that make our non-clinical co-workers blanch
and leave the cafeteria table. We may, on occasion, seem overly boisterous
and oblivious to your pain, while attempting to hide our own.
We are, after all, human. It is our humanness that allows us to care for you.
It is also our greatest vulnerability.

We will tend to your open sores and your infectious coughs and your unidentified rashes
and hope that our Personal Protective Equipment is all the manufacturer promised.
We will try not to think of the ramifications of TB, HIV, Hepatitis A,B,C and D, and meningitis
to our future or our families. Instead we will scrub our hands a thousand times a day
and wear bleach like the finest perfume.

We will teach you all about nutrition and good cholesterol while drinking too much coffee
and eating too may delivered pizzas that turned cold while we answered yet another call for help.

And when our day or evening or night is over, we will walk our calloused feet down the hall
and out the door….but we won’t go alone.
You will go with us….your agonies and your joyful recoveries,
your tearful goodbyes and your jubilant reunions,
your disappointments and your great courage,
your human failures and your newfound faith.
You, our patients, go with us….always.


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