Lets face it, we are paid to care – or so says society’s conditioned perception and those black and white filtered accounts of Florence Nightingale from the 1800’s. In some circles we are vocationally entwined for eternity to this role of nurse for no pay, doing it soley for the love of it and the promise of becoming a revered saint on the ‘other side’. There are still an enormous cohort that have visions of nurses gliding through the corridors with a grace that is ever so befitting for an angel of God. Glowing and softly spoken her mere presence brings promise of good health and longevity, and you are certain that she was sent here for a divine purpose. What a perfect fairy tale that I’m about to destroy – apologies in advance if you we’re hoping for some gooey BS about nursing being a perfect way to attain bliss and an enlightened soul. Now for the real story.
I remember looking at the nursing profession (both women and men – however I will focus this as a woman nurse because that’s what I am and I don’t pretend to be PC because this is my blog), thinking ‘Wow, what caring and self sacrificing women. I want to be that [martyr] when I finish university”. I warned you I wasn’t going to be PC. Well didn’t my perception change when I got out of my first year at university. I found a world of competitive, mostly women with awesome goals far beyond what you could dream of, and an industry that gobbles them up. That’s not to say all of its like this but I’ve seen it way more than once. If you manage to get the highly sought after graduate position that every woman and their ambition wants then you have to slog your way from being what us Aussies call ‘vegemites’ aka newbies, to someone the student nurses strive after in a short 12 months. Now I didn’t get the graduate program I had first wanted but I ended up with 3 offers where many ended up with none – palliative, medical and undecided in public and private hospitals I decided on the palliative because the others would not fit around a new found colony of cancer cells on my cervix, and I really believe I had some things to learn there. Some really tough stuff to learn.
So this glowing vision of gracefully gliding nurses soon gets a raw and real kick in the butt when reality sets in. What’s the reality you wonder? Well the reality for many of us nurses is this. We work solidly from the moment you step foot on your workplace soil, because nurses don’t start work at clock on time but in fact from the moment a potential patient or relative spot you at thirty paces in your uniform in the car park – because in the health industry nursing navy’s are like red to a bull. Then when we do finally clock on our bladders suddenly become made of impenetrable cast iron able to withstand the shock of a magnitude 7 earthquake, or at least the constant trickle of water each time you wash your hands. Lets not forget either that during a shift of 8 to 12 hours your metabolism is able to work on no food or if your lucky some snacks you left in your bag last weekend from a picnic in the park – lunch, what’s that?. Then you glide gracefully in the steaming sticky bathroom as you wash your patient, and with each step you feel a squelch in your shoes despite the well designed blue booties – and that’s a feeling you just cannot forget. I’ve been vomited on many times over the past years, in fact I think I have seen every colour and texture known to mankind or alien, and have in all honesty resisted the urge to follow suit hundreds of times. But it’s not all gore and goo, there’s all the emotional goo as well.
The emotional goo is what I know will do my head in one of these days. There is just no way you can escape the goodbyes between a young mother dying of cancer and the children who don’t recognise her and refuse to go near her. There is no way to escape the feeling of complete uselessness you feel when no amount of pain relief works to suppress the agony of another. There is no way to escape the heart wrenching guilt you feel when you reassure a relative that you will call if there loved one deteriorates only to have to call them 5 minutes after they leave to say its too late. There is no way to escape the feeling of incompetence when you make a human error, or fail to attend to every need simply because there is not enough hours in your shift to do so. But more so there is no way to escape the feelings that encompass your soul when the increasing demands of your jobs starts eating away at the bonds you have at home. You can never regain those missed awards, reading in your child’s class, school excursions or just something as simple as those first steps.
Some of you might think that I’m being a grumble guts but the point of this is to ask – who does the same for the nurse? I’m sure each of us have those moments in our nursing lives where we feel as though amidst all the caring we become invisible to the world, but it does beg an answer don’t you think? Who IS caring for those who care? Who is standing up and saying enough is enough? Who is taking their hand and walking with them through their darkest moments?
Nurses do love what they do, feel honoured to be there at those vulnerable times, and generally are grateful to be able to do what many can’t – but we are human, have feelings, have lives, have desires, have dreams, have sorrows, and have a sacred soul. This is true for me, but I have begun the process of asking myself – am I really the best nurse for this job at this time or am I being lead in a different way? A question we all should ask of ourselves.