Pam - Love and Pride
As a nursing student, I discovered I had the ability to really look into people’s eyes and connect with them. It’s a gift, but I didn’t necessarily understand its implications at the time. Then, about fifteen years ago when I was working in a geriatric unit, I discovered that I could see the youth in an older person’s eyes. Even though they were decades older than I was, I could relate to them on some level. I could see the life inside their old, frail bodies. And I could see what they still wanted – the yearning, the passion for life – even though they were on their deathbeds. I saw them for who they really were, and it moved me.
Since seventeen, when I entered nursing school in Australia, I have loved the connections I made with people. My impressions of nursing have changed over time. Today, there’s just so much technology. Sometimes it feels like a barrier to what we do best. When I first started, everything was handwritten – the charts, the notes. Today we check off boxes, so it’s not as personal. Even though in some respects technology has given us more time, it has also taken more time away from what is, for me, the heart of nursing: the time you spend with a patient, one-on-one, helping them to heal.
In terms of day-to-day work, nursing is always hard. There’s so much to do. Apart from the workload, it’s also difficult when a patient dies. However spiritual or religious anyone may be, it’s just a moving, emotional experience. From racing someone with an ectopic pregnancy from the ER to surgery and hoping that you don’t lose her, to someone who’s had cancer for a long time and is withering away and everybody knows the end is near – it’s one of the toughest parts of the job.
I clearly remember a gentleman who was told by the surgeon that he had forty-three days to live. So he got one of those tiny little notebooks and kept track of every single day. His wife stopped coming to visit because they had come to the agreement that she didn’t need to be there for those forty-three days. The hospital staff became his family, and would you believe that man actually died on the forty-third day? Just to walk with him on that path was an incredible experience. How he could direct his life like that made such an impact on me.
“It’s funny because my hands are so old and dry looking, but as a nurse I cherish the wisdom of those hands.” He had pancreatic cancer, so he was in quite a bit of pain and I remember just trying to help him get through those days – not to convince him that he could go on longer, just being with him. There came a point where he saw things in the corners of the room – almost like angels were there – and he would speak to them. He would say, “No. No. Forty-three. No. Sixteen? Hmm. No. Forty-three.” This man had been an accountant, so I felt it was like the numbers coming back to him, and the angels were perhaps trying to negotiate a bit. But he was so set in his ways and would just sit there so seriously, yet talking to something in the corner of the room that nobody else could see. I felt honored to be a part of that, to be present and to witness it, but I didn’t ever think about changing his mind.
Although my eyes have played a big role in my nursing style, my hands have also always been healing for people. In fact, for many years I have been using therapeutic touch as part of my work. If I touch someone they’ll often say to me, “Your hands are warm, they’re soft; I feel the caring coming through in them.” It’s funny because my hands are so old and dry looking, but as a nurse I cherish the wisdom of those hands. And touch is really powerful medicine.
These days, my career path has a new direction because I have chosen to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner. Some people think they’re the new breed of nurse, but that’s not really the case. Nurse practitioners have been around for at least a quarter of a century. What’s changing is that they are starting to have their own practices. Some say nurse practitioners are actually competition for family practice physicians these days. But are we really competition, or are we the mid-level providers? I think that’s all sorting itself out right now.
Now more than ever I’m excited about being a nurse, although, there has never been a time when I have felt like leaving the profession. My love for nursing is too strong. And I am proud to be nurse. If I can educate someone or help them move along in a more positive direction on their path, I take a lot of pride in that.
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