For much more than half my life, I have been a nurse. I have worked through the night; been awake for days on end without sleep, worked shifts starting at 7 am, or 10pm, or 7pm or 3pm, and developed an immunity to the effects of caffeine (but still abuse the magical powers of coffee!!).
Being a nurse is as much a part of me as being mother is. It is part of what makes me ‘me’. I have witnessed some amazing events, some humbling ones, and some incredibly horrific ones. I have laughed, I have cried, and have experienced just about everything else in between.
For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to ‘be’ was a nurse, and when I was about 7 or 8 my Dad got me an anatomy and physiology book on the heart. I had in memorised in about a week and so began my love affair with how amazingly cool our bodies can be, with all the systems that work together and get the job done. It also got me into my nerdy habits I am guessing, and I have been a booknerd for as long as I can remember.
When I first started nursing, I was in my teens. Dad said ‘you have to start somewhere love’ and so my parents would drive me to a nursing home each weekend for a days work. I did it for as long as I could – until sport got in the way and traveling for basketball games interstate were something I had to do instead. I learned how to talk to people. I mean really talk. I learned how sometimes silence was also OK. It was all scary at 14 to think about some of the things that I needed to do. But somehow, my love for care, compassion, empathy and humanity won over. I counted down the semesters at uni, and could not wait to be a registered nurse. Six semesters and I was done. Then it all began. I lived and breathed nursing.
I found a new life that had so many aspects I did not even think would happen. I had to work night duty on Friday and Saturday night, because I was the new nurse. My friends were out and about, or going to the movies and I was at work, awake. My friends (most of whom I still see and call my dearest friends now) adapted – thank goodness! I even remember chucking my first ever sickie – from a phone booth a Toombul so I could go to the movies with my friends. And they were in the phone booth snorting and laughing in the background. Lucky my boss had no reason to doubt me!!
I learned that not everyone had the interest in the ‘things’ I had to do at work. My definition of a shit day at work could literally be that. Seriously. The things that could stop me from getting to my tea break – like someones heart stopping, or their breathing. Or just that they needed me more than I needed my 10 minute break.
I grew to dread the witching hour. 3am. The time when for no real reason other than just happenstance, people got sicker, or died. Car accidents happened. Drug overdoses happened. Friday and Saturday nights were spent knowing that soon, there would be patient’s in the empty ICU beds because alcohol, drugs and driving did not mix. My eyes were opened to the horrors of humanity – the hatred, the malice and the sheer malevolence of a terrorist attack. I still get goosebumps when I think of the Bali 2012 Bombings.
At 19 I had seen death. I had sat with death, nursed its next victim with dignity and respect. Cried with the family. Made sure that my patient’s face was clean and their hair was brushed the right way. Fought death and lost more times than I can count – sometimes accepting that it was ok, and other times feeling incredibly ripped off – some deaths have no real meaning. Thankfully, I have also witnessed miracles. Patient’s who against all odds have survived. Situations where you think there is no hope, and then there suddenly becomes a flicker. And then the nurses get behind that flicker and soon enough it is a raging fire.
I can safely say that nursing is so embedded within me that I know exactly where on the Broslow scale my kids are, and find myself surveying and assessing almost every potential bad ending for ways to extricate said child/person, or how to treat until we get to hospital. I also think I am a bit of a hard arse and a bandaid is all that is needed sometimes. I mean, if it needs glue or stitches sure, but otherwise, you can stay at home kiddo! I have performed CPR out of the hospital so many times – and so much that some people will never walk through the cereal aisle again without remembering the incident of the person who fell, split their head open after having a heart attack on the way down. I know how to take charge of situations like this, because it is in every brain cell! This I know. How to apply makeup, not so much.
I work in a job where my uniform is either scrubs (which commonly get confused for pajamas) or pants and a shirt. I have never had to think about what to wear for work or how to do my hair – as it has to be out of the way, and not just for infection control – but for my safety. Let me tell you, a 120kg person who is off their head on drugs is pretty darn strong, and hair is easy to grab. And it hurts. Like really hurts. So, my wardrobe is limited. I fret and worry about what to wear when I have to go to training days for work (and end up being the one wearing uniform, just in case I get called back to clinical!!) or even worse when I go out (and my friends can attest to the ‘what are you wearing messages’!).
I have a love for toilet humour, a knack for acronyms and a nose that is just about able to identify anything. I have worked more Christmases than I have had off, and have learned that making the most of the time with my family on those special days is what matters. I have bought in the new year in the back of ambulances with lights and sirens, or just a ‘happy new year’ from the nurses I am working with in between doing our jobs. I have left work late almost every single shift in my life because we cannot just clock off if there is no-one there to take over. Or something happens. Or another admission. I am late home to my family because I have been looking after someone else’s family. My kids are ok with this now, and ask every time – ‘did you make them better mummy?’. They have the empathy bone.
I have had my nose broken by a patient, a couple of ribs here and there, been called some pretty choice names, and been abused for all sorts of things. It’s not all rosy. I have had to look after ‘that’ patient again because I am 6″2 and that sometimes makes patients rethink their abuse. I have had blood filled syringes held at me, scalpels pointed at me, urine and faeces thrown in the general direction of me and been spat at. It has its down sides this nursing thing. I have been in the back of ambulances, choppers, planes and boats, all in the name of trying to get to someone or trying to get them somewhere to get them better. And while this sounds fun, it is not always great traveling at warp speed trying to administer medication or blood when there is that thing called gravity. Or batteries go flat.
I have seen the insides of our very being. I have seen things that you cannot really see, but only feel. I can tell you the exact moment someone has died, because something in the room shifts, and the smell of death is gone. I have looked after people from all walks of life – from movie stars to politicians, to real people like you and I, to prisoners, murderers, and adulterers. I have looked after brand new humans, tiny bundles of sweet smelling babyness, to children who have terrible illnesses that make me want to howl because life is so unfair. I have often felt like I am in the middle of a Jerry Springer show when the mother is pushing out a baby to whom she is not sure which baby daddy is which. There are things that are so incredibly unbelievable that you would not laugh me out of the room if I tried to tell you. I have fought for my patients, for their rights, for things they cannot possibly understand sometimes, for their dignity and for their comfort. And I do it every shift.
I love being a nurse. I love all of it no matter how tiring it can be; because all of the good outweighs all of the bad. No two shifts are ever the same, and that is both a good thing and a bad thing! Nursing is a challenge. A constant battle, with disease, and our own intricate balance required to keep us working properly. Nothing beats winning! Watching a wound that you once could fit your fist into heal, watching someone ‘wake up’ after being in an induced coma for a massive head injury to actually be able to recognise family. Watching a baby take their first breath when things looked bad for a bit. Being a part of someone’s last wishes, and respecting them. Believing in yourself because your patients do, and they speak about you to their family and you get introduced as “that nurse who did….or that nurse who saved me…”. The chocolates we get as thanks, the hugs from kids, the tears of joy from happy parents taking their child home. All of it. I would not change a thing. Because no matter how bad some shifts can be, the good always wins. And yeah, that sounds a bit Marvel/DC Good V. Evil, but that is the way of it, I choose to be a nurse. Although, when I look at it, I think nursing chose me.