This morning after swimming lessons with my toddler, I was introduced warmly to a local retired nurse while passing by. Though just meeting, it was as if we were old friends and the world quickly faded as we connected in the middle of our local rec building.
Our meeting was a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of circumstances, but it left me thinking for much, much longer.
When I had congratulated her on reaching her retirement and jokingly mentioned my almost laughable out-of-reach set retirement date from our pension, she of course thanked me and laughed.
But then her look was grave.
“Oh, I do wish you well. Do take care of yourself. Nursing is not for the light-hearted. I bet you didn’t know how difficult it would really be when you chose it as a profession”.
I was blown away.
How very right she was.
While I had wanted to be a Doctor for most of my childhood, I had never once thought of nursing as a career. A more realistic, older version of myself could be found almost obsessively leafing through various University course booklets, trying to find the so-called “perfect match” for my odd mixture of talents – I enjoyed both the arts and sciences, and did not want to give up either. Looking back now, I remember I would always pass by the health sciences section. Initially I had zero interest in becoming a nurse.
Little did I know that one day, nursing would find me and claim my being to its core. When I started nursing school, I knew nothing about nursing. I didn’t know a single nurse, and I did not frequently encounter emergency departments, hospitals or medical clinics. I never volunteered as some did in my class. All I knew was that when my thumbs accidentally slipped when leafing through my well-worn course booklet and laid my eyes on Nursing – I knew immediately that it was going to be my profession.
A mixture of arts and sciences, people oriented, well-paying and highly regarded. It was exactly what I had been looking for, without actually knowing what it was.
It would be all sunshine and rainbows.
Or so I thought.
Now that my nursing career is well underway, I know better. Just last week I received a full-time position at the rural hospital where I work. And while all my co-workers are kindly congratulating me and I should be thanking my lucky stars that I can provide for my family, do something that I love and have a set schedule, I am having a hard time enjoying what I thought I had been waiting for my whole life.
All I can think of is that I would rather be home with my two kids, and I can’t quite figure out what that means to me. I couldn’t place this feeling of dread, in the back of my mind, until this chance encounter with the retired nurse.
All I can think now, is that nursing in the front-lines really isn’t quite what I had expected. Somehow I never realized that it may become a heavy burden on my shoulders instead of the bright light showing me the way. Somehow I didn’t think that seeing a retirement date of 2057 on a single piece of paper would give me such anxiety.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my profession, and all that it stands for. But what the intuitive retired nurse that I met earlier in the day said was complete truth… It is not for the light-hearted. Becoming a Registered Nurse changes you for both the better and worse.
If you’re not careful, it can ruin you.
You see, I do love my profession, and I do think that those managing health care are trying to do the best they can with the current 0% budget increases laid out to them and their high risk of job-loss based on their hospital’s bottomline.
But anyone who works as a nurse on the front line, must agree with me that it can lead to a heavy heart and tired bones.
Cleaning out commode chairs, watching your patients die before your eyes, confused patient’s hitting out at you, working short-staffed, feeling underappreciated and overworked, the revolving door that health care is, 250lb men pulling on you to get to the bathroom in time, the call bells ringing for help putting slippers on or to move their table just so, the family dynamics that you must face, not getting your breaks, not being able to pee or have adequate time alone to finish your charting, all of the skill sets and courses you must maintain to keep your patients safe… Well, it all adds up.
I have never met a retired nurse who regrets their choice in profession, but they also don’t regret retiring. “I don’t know how I did it for all those years” they say to me. Honestly, I’m not sure how I’m going to do it.
Our current health care system and the climate it has produced for the nursing profession, is frightening.
I hope that something changes.
I pray that more supports will come, and that we will one day be given adequate amounts of time to care for our patients appropriately.
I wish that we could maintain a continuity of care, so that five different physicians aren’t writing on a patient’s chart and that nurses are not expected to float to three different areas of the hospital in one day.
I’m pleading with the powers that be, to make this valued, highly-needed profession more friendly towards the new generation of nurses coming in.
I fear, if we continue in this direction of providing bare minimum staffing when our patient conditions are becoming exceedingly more and more acute, that all of the nurses in the front lines one day will have had enough.
They will be beaten down.
They will be forced to throw their hands up, unload their heavy shoulders, and say “well, we gave it our best shot”.
What will we do then?
What… Will we do?