Reflection on Nursing
That happened to me today. A dear friend, having a hard time at work, asked me for career advice. Knowing I am a nurse she asked…
‘Hey Jane, I want a different career’
‘Really! How exciting – what are you thinking? Computers, pilot, social work, bank manager, venture capitalist?’
‘What’s it like being a nurse?’
‘A nurse, are you mad? No way. Doctors tell you what to do after you’ve trained them how to do it themselves. Hand washing galore. Everyone telling you about their illnesses in the pub. Always trying to stick to the rules.., trying to please everyone’
‘But you’re a nurse – you love it. I see what you do, how you are,’ she was frowning now.
‘Do I? Well I suppose I do, but I don’t work in a hospital anymore and that is where you’ll have to work. Do you want to work nights and evenings? And you’re older – it’s difficult when you have to take orders from prats. When I was young, I was the prat. Not sure I could do it again at my age. The politics would get to me. I’d want to run the place.’
‘But people love nurses – and I’d always have a job. I like people, good salary, pension, loads of holidays, career progression – why not?’
‘Because you are bright enough to be a doctor, you have a degree already, you’re clever, academic. Don’t waste all that on being a nurse. The only people who love nurses are their mums’ and patients – but that is a given. We’re not special, we can’t diagnose or give out medicines, it’s depressing, we are not listened to. Nurses are a cliche,’ I wail. ‘It’s a women’s role but we are in a supposedly liberated world’.
‘That’s a ‘no’ to being a nurse then – straight from the horses mouth?’ she said, laughing at my passion.
Nurse Station Stop
And later I wondered if it were true? Was it a no?
Episodes from my career came back to me – nursing Baby Miles (not his real name) who I’d ‘specialled’ all night in ’73. He was brain-damaged from catching measles in the womb, three months old, a teeny tiny little thing, hanging on to life, was probably blind, in renal failure, abandoned by his young parents, so very sick. I nursed Baby Miles for 10 long nights. Just me and him mostly. I tended his tubes and his dialysis, I fed him, talked to him and drew his picture and I cried when I aspirated blood from his naso-gastric tube on my last morning. He died that day after I went off duty, when I was sleeping at home.
And what about the teenagers who’d stood before me, shaking with guilt and fear in the STD clinic who looked to me for support; those who could not walk from severe genital herpes or massive warts resembling cauliflower heads. As the nurse, I really helped those.
And the patients at home when I was a district nurse; multiple sclerosis, dementia, cancers, families struggling to cope and those who just didn’t have any one else. Holding their hands as they slipped quietly away. Deeply disturbing and demanding. Enriching and uplifting. Funny and tragic.
Or the coming together for life and death dramas that bind us nurses closely, like soldiers in war. Things not said, yet understood. The sense of humour. The common ground. The knowledge of life at its most basic and intimate level. Stuff nurses don’t dwell on, but we have all seen. A sense of compassion. A sense of deep fulfilment. I’ve done some real good today. Can everyone say that?
Wait! You’re right, my friend, I love being a nurse. But to talk about reasons is sometimes too deep, it takes time, quietness and calm; and not what my friend has to give now. I think I know that about you, because, well because I am a nurse and that’s what we do best.
If you are my friend reading this, I’m sorry, I was grandstanding, I wasn’t taking you seriously, there is so much good in being a nurse. Can we talk about it some more…?