I would really REALLY like you to contribute to the Book of Nurses in celebration of International Nurses Week this year (May 6-12).
Your story matters.
OK then, to start off tell us what country/area you live in, how long you have been nursing for, what areas you have worked in and the specialty you currently work in.
My name is Jennifer. I am a Registered Nurse on an outer island in the U.S. State of Hawaii. I work for a private company that runs our island’s only hospital, but essentially, I work for the government. I have been working as a nurse for 17 years. Wow. That kinda makes me feel old. I had to do the math twice, so maybe I am. There was a “nursing glut” when I first graduated and there were no jobs at the hospital. My first job out of school was at a Planned Parenthood clinic. I stayed there for 6 months, got my feet wet and dished out a daily dose of compassion for those making the difficult choice of having an abortion. I was the only nurse there. I was lonely, felt stagnated, and although I felt it important work, my heart was in acute care. After 6 months, I accepted a low paying position as a L.P.N. to get my foot in the door at the hospital. My first job there was in an Alzheimer’s unit, the furthest away from where I wanted to be. From there, I moved into a job as a Telemetry Tech and I learned every single cardiac rhythm. I learned to recognize a second degree heart block from across the room. I dreamt about alarms and heard them in my sleep. Eventually there was a “nursing shortage” and I was finally hired as a Registered Nurse on the Tele Unit. I worked there for about 3 years and was then recruited to the Emergency Department which is where I wanted to be from the very beginning. As of today, I have worked in the Emergency Department for 12 years. Our department is now in the process of becoming a Level 3 Trauma Center, and I’ll say it again, we are the ONLY hospital on the island. We get everything. We see it all.
What made you decide to become a nurse?
I became a nurse because my best friend was doing it and it sounded like a good idea. I was 26 when I started and I felt old then. At the time our island only had a community college and the choices were “Nursing” or “Hotel Services”. I had no desire to be a chef or make hotel beds so I chose nursing. I was never the little girl who always wanted to be a nurse. My very laissez-faire parents always told me I would figure out what I wanted to do and well, I guess I eventually did. Nursing has given me a secure job that has it’s rewarding moments and I feel like I will always be able to take care of myself.
Did you find your training prepared you for what actually goes on at the bedside? What sort of things really opened your eyes when you first began working ‘on the floor’?
I thought Nursing School was difficult until I worked my first 12 hour shift on that Telemetry Unit. I felt well prepared, but there is nothing like actual experience when you are a nurse. When you are the bottom line.
Tell us a story: an amazing, funny, moving or memorable moment from your book of shifts.
I will never forget my very first shift in the Emergency Department. My very first trauma patient weighed 450 lbs. and he had gone over the handle bars of his ATV. He was in his 20′s. The surgeon looked right at me and told me to “go get me the biggest knife you can find”. It was my first day and I had no idea what went on down there in the Emergency Department, let alone knew where anything was. I turned and asked the nurse who was training me for “the biggest knife we had” and I’ll never forget how she laughed and asked me, did I mean a scalpel? He had a torn renal artery and had just coded on arrival after spending his golden hour(s) out in the field. The docs sliced his abdomen wide open and asked me to put on some sterile gloves and “hold this!” I was terrified, but I was hooked. The patient died and I cried for days.
In fact, I remember all my very severe, early, cases vividly. It is only in later years that I am able to put them to rest much more easily except for the cases involving children or the much too young. These still cause quite a sting which tends to linger. A form of P.T.S.D. of sorts.
Not just a nurse: what about when you are not at work? What do you get up to in the rest of your life?
When not working, I tend to my tropical plants and dig in my garden. I tend to my home. I tend to my family, and my two, trained, stoic, children. Recently, they both came in a week apart to get sutures. Age 9 and 4. Neither one shed a tear, both well versed in the sense of expected ER decorum. A fact I guess I am weirdly, freakishly, proud of. Years of me telling them to walk it off, they know not to cry for a bandaid. For they know where I work, they have heard me talk about real loss. They know the cast of characters, the doctors, the nurses and the admitting clerks. They have sometimes been dropped off in the break room and have had to wait an hour or two for my shift to end. They strangely feel comfortable in the ER as I do, and they trust me. There is no need to cry. This is what I do. This is who we are. These are all our friends that work here. It is still a small community hospital. They’ve all been to my house, they’ve all come to my parties. They are all part of the family. Ohana.
Oh, and I surf, it is Hawaii after all.
Piss and Vinegar: name 3 things that really get under your skin, push your buttons, or generally irritate you at work or outside of work.
It really bugs me when I see nurses with poor sterile technique. You know, when starting IV’s, foley’s, whatever. It strikes a nerve. Why not do it right the first time? I recently adopted the mantra which I think began with the U.S. Marines… “Go Slow to Go Fast” It helps me slow things down and get it right. And lastly, there is compassion. I can’t say enough about compassion. I love it when I see it and love it when I feel it from other nurses. Towards patients, and towards each other. Sometimes, when the magic fails to be pulled out of the modern medicine hat, compassion is all that’s left. Be good to each other out there.