Nurses week: an honest reflection

Not that other posts are dishonest, but I feel contrary. Am I proud to be a nurse? Absolutely. Would I do it again? I can’t answer that. After all, if I’d known then what I know now, I wouldn’t know what I know now.

Nursing has changed me profoundly. I can say that without reservation. I have become more fully human and had experiences that most people never have. I have more stories than I could ever capture about which you’d say, “you can’t make this stuff up.”

I have cried with happiness and with empathy. I’ve been there when people come in to this world and, far more often, when they leave it. I feel a deep sense of connection with the lives I come in to contact with and a deep sense of honor and pride that I am good at what I do. I derive integrity from it. I start every day saying “I’m going to be the best nurse I can be today,” and I usually am. That’s job fulfillment right there.

I have made the closest friends I will ever have. Sharing trauma, death, and plain hard work with people will create bonds like no others.

I never feel like I’m doing pointless work. When I was an editor, I felt as if I was spending my life working hard on things that no one would ever read, and I felt empty and frustrated. Now I feel empty and frustrated for different reasons, at least. I know that what I do matters to people. Even the stupid pointless bureaucratic tasks I spend so much time on matter because they’re necessary for patient care.

But.

I have also experienced life-shattering betrayal of those bonds with other nurses, because lateral violence is a real problem.

I have been so exhausted I couldn’t drive safely, on a regular basis, and I have realized that I’m doing hard manual labor daily without the chance for adequate food and water intake. I have felt like I was too drained to go on living. I just can’t give any more, sometimes. I’ve started IVs on DOA babies and made dozens of phone calls bearing bad news. Compassion fatigue is a real problem.

I have been smacked down after doing my level best for patients simply because doctors think I’m automatically an idiot for being a nurse. I know I am seen as an inferior being, a pawn, disposable. I have been yelled at because of unbeatable power differentials. Lack of professional respect (between professions and within this one) is a real problem.

I have watched this profession deteriorate over 10 years as nurses have to do more with fewer staff, and I have watched patients suffer for it. Understaffing is a real problem.

Nursing isn’t so much a job as it is a lifestyle. It isn’t so much a healthy lifestyle, either. There are good reasons why mental illness and substance abuse are issues in our community.

So yes, I am absolutely proud to be a nurse, and I hope we all use this week to pat each other on the back, because we need that. But I’m using the week for some real reflection on where I am in my life because of this professional path, and it is by far not all positive.