By Anonymous Nurse
The career I have chosen is stressful, overwhelming, and sometimes crippling in its ability to humble. I am permitted by virtue of my job into some of life’s most sacred, raw, beautiful, tragic, and miraculous moments. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I am a nurse who cares for critically ill children. When people learn what I do, they nearly always say, “I could never do that!” I used to think the same thing. Even now I sometimes wonder if this is something I’m strong enough to do. The truth: it is hard. It can be sad. Some days it can be so, very, very sad. But everyday – it is rewarding.
There is beauty, even in the depths of despair. I choose to find that beauty and this is what makes my job tolerable. I get to witness firsthand the beauty of strength and love. Strength that is dredged from the bottomless well of a mother or a fathers love for their child. I see the beauty of relationships formed from gentle, often simple kindnesses offered when one feels so alone. Maybe the kindness is offered in the form of a warm blanket, in sitting silently beside you, in mourning with you, in holding your hand, or in crying with you. Sometimes the beauty comes from allowing our humanity to show, from allowing our professional boundaries to fall aside, and in letting our feelings show.
Nurses/RT’s/doctors caring about their patients and families is nearly universal, but it’s almost always hidden. Clinical distance is used by nearly all medical staff to protect our hearts. To ensure that when our patient is not doing well we are able to focus on our job, not on our feelings. I have heard it suggested that this distance must always be maintained or a nurse will find themselves unable to preserve professional boundaries. I don’t believe these two are inextricably linked. I believe nurses can care, can show empathy and compassion, and come to love their patients and families – and still function in their role.
Things are not always black and white. In the gray areas relationships are born, and it happens more often than you’d think.
This is when the most precious moments occur. The moments when a team comes together, not to get the job done – which happens everyday, but to honor a life. When our guard is down, because we have inadvertently let you (or your child) in.
Even when you don’t see it, nurses (and the entire medical team) care. You impact your medical team more than you will ever know. When we leave at the end of our shift, our concern for you doesn’t fade. We take you home with us. We replay minute details of your assessment looking for anything we should have seen but didn’t. We think back to your clinical deterioration looking for things that could have been done differently. Ever striving to be better, to see more, to intervene more swiftly.
We call to check on you on our days off or to pass on a piece of information that could be helpful to the next nurse. We research ailments we aren’t familiar with to ensure we are treating you in the best manner possible. We rack our minds and pick the brains of our peers to come up with anything we should try or do differently. These things and many more go on behind the scenes in every hospital, on every unit, with every clinician, everyday.
But you won’t know – because we don’t talk about it.
And in the times that despite every medical intervention and every whispered prayer, our patient can’t be saved – our job is to support you. So, you may never know. We feel the loss and we grieve with you. And sometimes we fall apart.
When your loved one dies, we cry, we grieve, and we never forget. Most of the time it happens in private – in the bathroom, on the drive home, in the shower. We break. Then we pull ourselves together so we can do our jobs again tomorrow. Because it’s what we have to do in order to do this very difficult job. Whether you see it or not, I promise you – it’s there. And I promise, we remember.
Professional boundaries exist to ensure that the medical team doesn’t get too close to our patients and families. When clinical distance slips and our love for others pours out – this is when something remarkable occurs. This is when lives and hearts are touched, and sometimes changed forever. This is nursing.