Before I was a nurse, I never experienced the sleep emphasis that comes with this profession. It started in nursing school, when I was Tired for the first time in my life. I went to college before, for my first degree, while I worked (usually full-time or the equivalent), I got a degree, and I felt pretty busy most of the time, but nursing school trumped that by a factor of 10. The bullshit made me tired, the hours made me tired, and the 12-hour CNA night shifts catapulted me into suicidal exhaustion. One reaches a feeling that goes something like “I truly, in the depths of my being, would rather someone kill me than have to get out of this bed. I can’t do it again.” It’s physical, intellectual, and emotional exhaustion. You adapt.
Only working, without the school part, has decreased the absolute “I’m going to die from this” exhaustion, but I still note that I and my colleagues mostly talk about sleep the same way new mothers do—as though sleep is akin to an oasis for a thirsty person in a desert. We say things like, “So did you sleep today?” Because that’s a logical question in our world. In my old world, it wasn’t. It’s also normal for me to decline engagements with “I can’t. I have to sleep.” That would have seemed completely bizarre to me Before.
I didn’t know that this would be part of my life when I chose nursing. I didn’t know a lot of things, and most of them I probably should have (I have to wipe BUTTS? I have to lift HUMANS? I have to go SIX HOURS without peeing?). In fact, this profession has not turned out to be anything like I thought it would be. I still love it. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. But the sleep/exhaustion thing is one major downside. On the upside, I suppose, one does learn to be extraordinarily flexible and think outside the box. Harry Potter at 12:30 tomorrow morning? I’m on it!