It was orientation day. My family had taken a flight out ahead of me to attend wedding ceremonies. I stayed behind, pressed my clothes, prepared notebooks, and set out for a day I had been waiting for, for a long time.
Approximately 50 eager nursing students sat behind desks and quieted as the lights were lowered. The instructor played a film, introducing us to our chosen field and wanted to fill our bodies with motivation and inspiration.
'You will have an opportunity to care for people that do not have the means or capacity to ever repay you.'
The film ended and my eyes were heavy with tears. I tried to open them wide, hoping the air conditioning would dry them up before my neighbors noticed.
I was so very grateful. I was excited and hopeful. I would live out my life being so very proud of my job. I couldn't wait.
I was terrified. I barely slept the night before. I sat in my car watching the clock, hoping time would barely pass by if I watched every minute tic. It was my first patient interaction. I was at a skilled nursing facility and I was to interview an elderly patient, and gain experience obtaining a thorough health history.
What was I so afraid of?
I didn't know what to expect.
I watched "Fried Green Tomatoes" one too many times, and had images of a mean old lady screaming at me, throwing me out of her room, and cursing my ill experience while throwing donuts.
I delayed no more and walked in with confidence. My name badge and clip board screamed target practice. The employed nurses love to watch you squirm.
My instructor gave me my patient's chart and told me to go to her room and introduce myself after I gathered all the appropriate data. Her binder was thick with life's journey. Medications, disease processes, and lab work now defined her within those walls.
"Where's the tab in here that tells me who comes to visit her? Who takes her to the beauty parlor and church? Who tells her Happy Mothers Day?"
No such tab existed.
I walked in her room. She shared it with another lonely woman that mumbled something as I passed the curtain.
She looked old. She looked confused. She looked happy to have someone to talk to.
"Ms. Walker, may I ask you some questions about your health?"
I worked my way down the list that my instructor prepared for me.
Question 11: Do you have any STD's?
Question 12: How many partners have you been with?
Are you kidding me? What kind of sick bastard wrote these questions for a nursing home? Can I let this lonely old woman have some secrets and dignity please?
Formalities get in the way the sometimes.
I put the clipboard down and just started to talk. I asked her questions like we were sipping tea by the shore.
We laughed. She told me stories about her life that I couldn't possibly fit onto any sheet of paper.
I knew I'd have to make up some of my material to turn my paper in for a grade. I didn't care, and knew my instructor wouldn't care either.
The video your institution showed me on my first day didn't say anything about caring more about a clip board than a person.
It was about how I made someone feel that day. She wanted to talk to a person that genuinely cared about her answers.
I left that day laughing at myself for being so nervous. I chose this profession because it allowed me to be free of clipboards and formalities. It's about making people feel good.
In the spirit of Nurse's Week...Remember how the profession began. It's about being at a person's bedside when their loved ones cannot. It's about giving your attention when someone needs it most.
Be that person, and protect the integrity of the initials that follow your name.