Every year we celebrate Nurse’s Week across the country. What is it actually like to be a nurse? What does it take to be a nurse? You could ask my mom, she could tell you. But I can tell it from my point of view.
My mom began her nursing career in 1971. She graduated from a two year registered nurse (RN) program out of the Calgary General Hospital and moved to the Birch River area after marrying my Dad. Growing up, I remember so many of the unflattering parts of nursing: It’s Christmas morning and we have to get up and open presents around 5 a.m. as she needs to be at work for her day shift by 7 a.m. It’s Christmas Eve and she is working a night shift so it’s just us kids and Dad hanging out around the tree. I remember one time when she worked day shift on Christmas Day and Dad was left in charge of the turkey and fixings. Let’s just say the stuffing didn’t resemble stuffing.
Besides all of the missed holidays throughout the year, I remember her being tired a lot. There was the time she stopped to gas up the car on her way home from a night shift and set her purse on the roof of the car. In her sleep-deprived state she drove part of the way home with the purse riding up on the roof. There was the time she pulled into the garage after her 30-minute drive home from night shift and just left the car door wide open, too tired to realize she hadn’t closed it. And it was only the following evening when she went to leave again for work that she realized it.
Yes, so I do remember her being tired a lot. But what I didn’t know, the side I didn’t get to see growing up, is what was waiting for her when she left home to go to the hospital/personal care home. Now that I’ve been a nurse myself for 21 years, I understand, anyone who’s a nurse understands. The days are long, the nights are longer. We deal with people at their absolute worst some days. People who are broken, physically, mentally and sometimes both. People who don’t know their own name. People who rely solely on others to feed them, dress them, toilet them, help them out of bed and walk again. People so vulnerable. It’s exhausting. If you weren’t born with one of those personalities that makes you constantly and automatically chipper and upbeat and happy all the time, it can be exhausting portraying that as much as possible all day long. Your hand on someone’s shoulder might be the only touch that person feels for days or even weeks. Your idle chitchat with them might be the only conversation they have that day.
Nursing is so much more than 12 hours on your tired feet. It’s being compassionate and strong for the families of the patients/people we serve. It’s looking death in the face while keeping a brave face yourself to help the families of the dying stay strong. It’s holding the hands of the ones who are dying and giving hugs to the family whom you’ve just broken the news to. It’s trying to give your entire patient load or assignment equal amounts of attention. Do we go to work just to spend an entire shift looking after just one person? In most cases, no! We have multiple patients to care for, juggling duties all day long. After the embraces with the family who just lost one of their beloved family members, we leave the room and “get on” with our day. We don’t have time to sit in a corner and feel sad and decompress. There are other patients needing our attention and care. Medications to hand out, dressings to be changed, catheters to be changed. Care conferences to attend, discharge planning to participate in, charting to be done, and paperwork to be completed.
So we roll with the punches and we carry on. And guess what? Some of us have our own family and friends requiring our attention during the shift. We don’t get to “turn off” our duties as moms/dad, grandparents, aunts/uncles just because we are at work. There are daycares and preschools waiting for us to pick our children up. There are dentist or doctor appointments our families require us to attend with them. There are Christmas concerts, parent teacher interviews, the vet appointment for the dog you’ve cancelled and rescheduled already two times. There are missed phone calls and texts on our phones throughout the day that we can’t attend to. We are stretched in a hundred different directions. Our patients need us and our friends and family need us.
So we don’t give up, my mom didn’t give up. She was super strong. She rarely complained. She took it all in stride. She showed up for work. She showed up at home. She found the balance, day after day, year after year. She was (and is) an amazing role model. And there are plenty more out there, nurses whom I’ve worked with, my whole nursing career in Thompson. Amazing nurses who took me in and taught me so many things when I was a new nurse and new to Thompson.
If you are a nurse, give yourself a pat on the back and be proud. If you know a nurse, let him/her know how much they mean to you … for it’s not easy being a nurse.
Carla Antichow, who lives in Thompson, is a nurse, a mother to three teenagers and most recently a devoted “grandma” to a six-month-old golden retriever.