From the time I was three, sitting under the kitchen table, pasting a parade of Band-Aids® along my scraped shin, I knew I wanted to be a nurse. I longed to heal with lots of Band-Aids, they smelled like all better. The oldest of three children in a troubled family, I somehow understood at an early age that my passion to comfort and heal myself and others would be my life.
My determination to pursue nursing grew as I worked as a nurses’ aide and wheeled German-speaking Josie down the halls of a Philadelphia nursing home. My dream was realized as I stood and recited the Nightingale pledge in 1972. Nursing fulfilled me as a young nurse in pediatric oncology attending children as their life ebbed; as a corrections nurse educating female inmates in hygiene; and as a seasoned veteran tending to the dying in their homes. I grew to appreciate, with the wisdom of age, those cracked emotions in my life as daughter, wife, and as a mother myself as the space where the light of my calling was birthed and bloomed.
My occupational memoir reveals one nurse’s bedside observations on where nurses come from; how we are educated; how we are treated in the workplace; and how we learn to do what can never be taught in a curriculum. As an example, what to do when a patient vomits explosively onto your chest, and you unexpectedly vomit yourself. How to explain to a deaf patient where a suppository goes while an audience of staff and visitors listen in from the hallway. How to collect your thoughts and make a plan when you arrive for a home care visit to find your elderly confused patient has ingested a full bottle of liquid laxative and left evidence of those results all over the walls, floor, and Barco lounger in the home. It is where medical science meets nursing artistry. Where technology meets humanity. Where hearts open and wounds heal.
Despite the challenges faced by modern nurses, our well-respected tradition of caring for people who are sick continues to flourish. My occupational memoir speaks with empathy to nurses and aims to inspire them. Through selected vignettes, I recognize their courage to lean into discomfort and hard emotions. I acknowledge the power they hold in their healing hands and throw forward a lifeline of hope to renew their faith and joy in their vocation.
And to my many non-nurse readers, come experience a nurse’s day; what we see, feel, hear, and touch. Have a peek behind the bedside curtain.