Friday, October 10, 2008
I have been back at work now for almost 2 months, and I am finally starting to feel like a nurse. Which is really neat for me, and also probably a reeeeaaallly good thing for my patients. I feel more confident in what I am doing, and they feel more confidence in me as a result. The weird thing is, I worked for 5 months previously on a Mother/Baby floor and I never had this feeling. I went to work and cared for new moms and their babies, but it never felt like I was accomplishing much. I KNEW about being a Mom, I KNEW about caring for babies, and showing new parents how to swaddle their newborn just wasn't requiring much brain power on my part. Its not what one would call a high-skills area and I certainly didn't feel like I was using my hard-earned 4 year degree to its full potential.
But things on a med/surg/oncology floor are very, very different. In the last two months I have (finally!) learned how to start IVs. I've changed dressings on wounds that were ranging from fresh out of surgery to rotten-full-of-maggots. I've seen all kinds of drains and wound vacs and colostomys and illeostomys and amputations and abrasions and staples and sutures. I've had patients from their early 20s to over 90 in all sizes and shapes and colors.
But the patients who have already found a special place in my heart are our cancer patients. To see them and their families, battling an illness of their body's betrayal at the most fundamental level, alternating between optimism and despair, anger and love, frustation and determination is both inspiring and humbling. A few weeks ago I was caring for this wonderful woman, whos family was always by her side tending to her every need, who in the midst of her own extreme suffering could still crack a joke and make everyone smile. I went in to the medication room to draw up some pain medicine for her and I just started to cry, I was so overwhelmed by her struggle. The cancer was killing her, and the treatment for it was only making her remaining time miserable. But she had no choice, you see, because she has young children. Who need her. Who she has to fight for even if the doctor says the odds aren't good. I had seen her youngest daughter for the first time in the hallway just moments before, and she stopped me in my tracks. "You look JUST like your mother," I said. "Thanks", she said with a big smile, "My mom is beautiful."
My preceptor came in the room behind me and asked me what was wrong. Like a child, all I could manage to get out with my sobs was a very simple "Its just not FAIR." She gave me a big hug and told me "Now I KNOW you are going to be a great nurse, because you care this much." She let me cry for a minute and then she roughly rubbed my shoulders, told me to pull it back together, and go do whatever I could for my patient. And that would have to be good enough.
A few of the patients I have cared for in my short time on this floor have already died. Not through any fault of ours, the cancer just couldn't be beaten. The learning curve here is steep. But I am learning how to cope. Someone asked me yesterday if I though I would "get used to it". I hope I never do. Because I do believe that the only thing I can give these amazing individuals that will make any real difference is my honest compassion and caring.