Nurses see some pretty awful things. I love what I do, but this is the honest truth. On a daily basis we watch as the ravages of disease take hold and forever change the lives of our patients. We try to slow the ugly physiology unfolding before us, but we know that there’s only so much we can do. We know this. We do.
So we come into work well-aware of the fact that much of what we’ll face that day, we won’t be able to fix. We always hope – it’s that hope that drives us there – but we also know. Sometimes there is just no fixing this. We just know. And we see.
We see your wife standing in the corner crying as you’re carried out of the bathroom not breathing. Her eyes watch in horror as yours stare at nothing. We see this.
We see the hopelessness of your wounds as we change your dressings. We listen as you long for your life to return to normal. You haven’t realized yet that your normal has now been changed. But we see this.
We see the damage from years of drug abuse. We struggle to start yet another IV. You’re actually very sick this time – this IV could save your life. But you don’t care. Your demons take over. Hurry up and get that IV, you say – it’s time for more pain meds. That’s all that matters. You calmly set your alarm for the next dose. We see this.
We see the snacks you’ve hidden as we fight your ridiculously high blood sugar. We listen as you tell us how hard you try. We see your family roll their eyes in frustration. They know. We know. We see the numbers. We see the ripple effects starting. We can’t make you listen. We can’t make you care. No one can. We see this.
We also see people at their absolute worst. Yes, we do. And I don’t mean physically. In the hospital we see lives that are spiraling out of control, and patients who are absolutely DESPERATE to control SOMETHING. So, in their anxiety, they try to control those caring for them with a constant stream of unreasonable demands, incredible rudeness, and a cold, generalized apathy. It’s that apathy that can be downright scary sometimes.
We not only see this, but we absolutely feel the pressure from it, as well. Yes, we do.
So during our long 12 – 14 hour days, we see all this (which actually happened in just one shift) and more as we rush around trying to predict the unpredictable. And trying to help you accept the unacceptable. We do what we can, where we can, when we can. And then we just accept that it’s all we can do. And we go home. And we come back. That’s our normal.
In my last post I wrote about how we’ve become “war-torn” as nurses, how easy it is to become “dark and jaded”. “Burnt like toast”. The professional discouragement I’ve seen lately (and personally felt at times) remains on my mind and heavy on my heart. And it just seems to be getting worse.
So, what do we do about it?
I think it’s important for nurses to accept that what we do is not normal. What we see is not normal. Nursing “normal” is just so incredibly NOT NORMAL. And I don’t care how long we’ve been doing it.
This isn’t the type of job where we can just walk away at the end of our shift and expect to forget about it. We can’t just clock out and “unsee” what we’ve seen. We see too much. We experience too much. We’re responsible for too much. If we mess up at work, we’re not just dropping somebody’s burger. We bear a heavy load all day, every day and it doesn’t just tuck neatly away. No matter how hard we try.
At least not for long, anyways.
In the past few years, I’ve had to learn to accept my own unacceptable. Lupus – that ugly, sneaky bully – came in and sucker-punched my everything. It stole my old life, stole my old me. I’ve tried to just push it away and ignore it. To just “be normal” like everybody else. Laugh, dance, play in the sunshine.
But, you know what? Lupus won’t let me do that. It’s never far from me … lurking … waiting to remind me … plotting to weaken me … to stop me … to force me to be still. To think. To ponder. Process. Pray. Accept. Seek strength. Find beauty. Pass it on.
My point is that I’ve learned through this that sometimes the very things we really, REALLY just want to push from our minds and forget about are EXACTLY the things we need to spend some time thinking about.
Because, just like my Lupus, the strange situations we see both inside AND outside the hospital have been given to us with a purpose. We didn’t ask for them, but they’re ours. They can seem ugly and painful, but I guarantee there’s beauty in there. Because it’s from God. It’s ALL from God. So there can’t help but be beauty in it. Take some time to look for it.
It’s up to us to do this. We actually have to CHOOSE to look for it.
Or just push it all away. It’s our choice. The pain, the wariness, the ugly. Forget about it. Just keep clocking out and pushing it down. We can all just keep doing that.
Until we start choking on it. Because what we see is too much for us. It weighs us down and darkens us. Our toast has now become burnt.
Now we dread going back. We forget why we were even there in the first place. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves??? We have anxiety at the thought of hanging that stethoscope around our necks again. So much responsibility.
Now we’re also stressed out at home just thinking about going back to work. Our families feel it. Our patients feel it. We feel it.
Now we’re not doing any good for anybody. Because we’ve become numb. We’re just putting one foot in front of the other … just going through the motions.
But that’s not why we were called to Nursing. We were called to care. To REALLY care. And to KEEP caring. But again … we have to CHOOSE this.
So don’t just push it away. Take the time to learn from what we see. No matter what we see. Grow from it. Grow THROUGH it. Press forward by taking its lesson along with us because it has purpose. And its purpose is to strengthen us. To CHANGE us. To make us better nurses. To make us better people.
Thanks for growing with me. ❤
I saw Matthew West in concert once – what a show. Such an incredible voice. I’ve had this song about going through “The Motions” on repeat while writing this post today. Such a needed message that’s really been helping me scrape the burnt off MY OWN toast before working again tomorrow. I hope it helps you, too. ❤
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)