Saturday, April 10, 2010

The comfort of other nurses (and nursing students)

Nursing is hard. (cf Barbie, "Math is hard!") It can be lonely, overwhelming, frustrating, irritating, enraging, satisfying, thrilling, scary as hell, and sometimes hilarious.

Nurses need nurses. Back when I started nursing, I was so burned out on the whole "talk about nursing all day/dream about it all night" thing that I'd done in school that I made friends who weren't nurses, on purpose. Then, about two years into the deal--about the time I started the blog, not coincidentally--I realized that there was a shortage of people I could talk to who would really understand what I did for a living. In one sense, it's like being a veteran or having lived through a natural disaster: explaining the backstory for everything that happens would take too long for a civilian audience, and dilute the power of the stories.

Once you've had somebody die with your hands on them, or brought somebody back to life with a combination of chest compressions and epinephrine, your life changes. Your worldview is never quite the same, and you never have a truly bad day again. After all, you're vertical, right? And you're not in the bed. And there are no tubes in your bladder or throat, so it's all good.

There are very few people who really *get* that. Most of 'em are other nurses, or nursing students who have seen a few things.

Abilene Rob has a brilliant description up on his blog just now about what it's like to watch a heart bloom in the cath lab, once the dye is injected and goes through the heart. Watching a brain bloom like that is what made me first believe seriously in God. (Sometimes that belief gets tested, as in cases of GVHD, but that's another post for another time.) He and I have had some nice chats about watching doctors tear open an incision line with their hands in order to evacuate clots that were cutting off important avenues for blood and air, or folks with such serious jaundice that they're dark orange.

Other nurses have consoled me when they've sensed that I've been less-than-myself. They've sent emails, or funny e-cards, or just let me know that they're thinking about me after I've, say, lost a patient in a particularly brutal way.

Sometimes I get an email from a civilian who says, "My mom was a nurse, and what you talk about is what she talked about at dinner when I was a kid. It makes me feel closer to her to read about what you do. Thanks for doing it." That helps immensely, knowing there are non-nurses out there who really get it.

We need to take care of each other. We need to take care of the students who depend on us to learn not to kill people. I'm incredibly fortunate to work in a place where nurses don't eat their young, but those places still exist. Cannabalistic nurses need to be called on their behavior and told it's not acceptable; new nurses need to be nurtured and toughened up and cut some slack. Students need to be shown all the cool shit we do, and how vital even the most boring stuff is, even at the same time they're shown why we still smile after years when we say "I'm a nurse."

Never say "I'm just a nurse." What we do is trench work: difficult, dirty, sometimes heartbreaking, occasionally dangerous. It requires skill and brains and an ability to deal with people that is tested every damn day on the job. We--you--are not "just" anything.

Be careful out there. Watch each others' backs. And pat your own for the job you do. I'm proud to call you a colleague.


Abilene Rob said...

Awww, shucks. You make me blush to my bones, but thank you for the shout out. Coming from you, it is high praise.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post. You really have such a great understanding from so many angles. Thank you for your post. It was so great to read this as I study into the wee hours tonight. It reminds me of why I love it so much, it's not just the patients and their families that make my heart bigger, but it's also the other nurses.

me said...

Damn right!!!

An Open Heart said...

You make me want to become a Nurse.


woolywoman said...

Great post. Great as in, I'm printing it out and putting it on my locker kind of post. Today a patient's son asked me if I like being a nurse. I was caught off guard, and before I could think, answered "I love it" Huh. Guess I'm done being burned out for a while.

Sunflower RN said...

It's 0530 on a Sunday morning and I am up to go to work. I chose the unit I work on for the nurses. The patients (psych) are very interesting and have live tortured lives, but I could not do it on my own. I need other nurses to make me a better nurse. To understand what we are doing, you need to be able to bounce ideas off of. I previously worked LTC psych and I was the only RN in the building. It really helps to keep you going when you have someone to share the load with.

Bless you Jo, for the support and for the words.

Sunflower RN

messymimi said...

You are not just a nurse.

I grew up with a mom nurse and a dad doc, and I worked in his office for 8 years. I didn't go into medicine because I would have made a dumb mistake and killed someone, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for the incredibly hard work you do.

I've often wondered if it wouldn't be better for the medical field if doctors were required to work their way through med school as nurses (the one I met who had was an incredible guy).

Marjorie said...

Thank you for writing this. It's appropriate for what I'm going through right now. I'm not really enjoying my new gig because of the "cannibalistic nurses" in my department. It's frustrating that people like that make me question whether or not I should still be in nursing. I know it's just the place and not my job.

You're right - we should be looking out for each other. It takes a special kind of person to be a nurse.

Thanks again!

undergrad RN said...

It'd be a privilege to have a nurse like you as my preceptor. I'm terrified and honored to call myself a nurse one day. Some days it's all I can do to slog through just one more chart. There's just so much to know!

Thank you for a great post.

Tonjia said...

thank you so much for posting this. Sometimes this profession of ours isnt very forgiving..

I raise my glass to all fellow nurses out there, we all chose this career for one reason or another, kudos to us all!!!!

Kayla said...

I've been following your blog for about 6 months or so now. I have to say you make me laugh, cry and really appreciate what I do for a living when sometime I forget. I'm a newbie, having only been a nurse for 10 months and it has been probably thr hardest 10 months of my life. Thank you for writing what I can't always express.

Kelly said...

Thank you for sharing this. I have no doubt that your posts will continue to rally and delight me when I eventually find a job as a new grad. Being an unemployed new grad is hard but your posts are a bright spot in my day and a reminder of why I chose to go into nursing in the first place.

ScruffRN said...

As a newer RN who just quit her job because of "cannabalistic nurses," I thank you for this post. It's tough being new to the profession and my hope was dwindling that there are, in fact, still nurses out there that want to mentor and shape a new nurse. I read your blog regularly and you are a true inspiration!