For as long as I can remember I was going to be a nurse. My mom was a nurse, though not a practicing one in the time we knew her. Whether it was that which inspired me, or my mom’s encouraging words I am not sure but I know I was fascinated with her tidbits of interest to my world to do with medicine and nursing. There was a shadow of a doubt in my late high school years, for some of my skills seemed to be math rather than the arts.. and in those days nursing was considered an “art’
I remember driving to my first job in Northern Newfoundland. Not yet 21 and not eligible to drink liquor in most provinces but ready to be in charge of a busy 50 bed surgical ward the first week. There I learned that my training had prepared me well but not for the ” Carry on Nurse ” type of British system that made Grand Rounds at the surgeon’s timing and nearly standing at attention when he arrived. My position that first week was ” Second Nurse ” who called out all the temperatures and BM’s. it wasn’t long before I was side by side with the surgeon having graduated relating the history of the patient and making sure ‘ dressings were down”.
After a short work term in Edmonton the next year, and a decision to move to Saskatoon by November. ( that is another story ), A dear friend somehow convinced her bosses that I would be an asset at her workplace, even though I didn’t want to be a CCU nurse. I learned again – to love a different part of nursing – what we often called hours of boredom interspersed with minutes of terror. I found Cardiac Critical Care fascinating and loved that patients could be unstable one moment, but most times stable in a few days and ready to leave our small unit.
Then my life led me to Edmonton to Pediatrics and then General Surgery where I learned my greatest assertiveness lessons. I learned that when you demand respect ( not in words but in the way you handle good and poor actions by others ) you get respect. I learned I was not ” just a nurse” and I was not “sorry” to call a doctor for something he needed to do for me. This was not easy but was led by a ferocious 4’11 tall head nurse who believed that HER staff would be treated with respect by doctors, fellow nurses and patients and taught us how to expect that. I remember and love the story of the surgeon who called me “Nurse ” to only be taken on by this little firefly and who introduced me to this surgeon ( although we had worked together for a year). He looked at her rather quizzically as she said ” Now that you know Mrs Jago, you will not need to call her NURSE. And he didn’t !!
Then to Moose Jaw, where my career took a back seat to parenting for several years. I did get a job and became a ‘casual worker ” ready to come to work in seconds notice. Again a twist of – well I guess you could call it fate, but I call it God’s intervention, it became necessary for me to return to work full-time so back to ICU I went, with lost confidence from years of being a casual. It took me a bit but soon I got in the swing of things and sooner than I wanted, was a ” senior nurse” capable of being in charge and ” calling the shots” in a Code Blue. Again I found my niche and embraced this fast and somewhat scary side of nursing – with again hours of just watching and waiting and the inevitable burst of terror. This was a good niche for me and I grew in knowledge and ability.
This nursing career has put me in many situations – some exciting and some just darn exhausting. I have been frightened, exhilarated, and exhausted. I have rejoiced in miraculous recoveries, and cried in disappointment and grief. I have been covered in bodily fluids and experienced other things only nurses talk about. I have been yelled at and cursed at by clients, physicians and fellow nurses. I have been kicked, pinched, spat on and ignored. And many times I have been appreciated, loved and praised. I have laughed when it was more appropriate to cry and cried when I tried to stand up for what I believed in. I have been present at the bedside of many who peacefully took their last breath and some who resisted. I have fought hard to keep others alive and sat quietly while someone bravely faced death.
With an ad in the local paper and what started out as a silly thought – I decided to apply for a management position. I got a position as a Nurse Unit Manager ( NUM) who battled for her patients sometimes having to battle the doctors to get what was needed. Again I came to my job smiling – ready to face the day. This position had acute care and management all rolled into one, but the writing was on the wall. That hospital closed and somewhat naively and somewhat reluctantly I ventured into Long Term Care as a Nurse Manager. I learned that Long Term Care is not the end of the road, but a place to grieve losses, then to live and often to live well. I learned that in long term care, you not only look after residents, but also families. You find out so much about that resident as a person, not just a patient.
I learned that Long Term Care nurses are often on their own and their story is the best key to getting their residents their best care. They, too, have to be ready for emergencies, ready to diagnose ( though we can’t call it that ) and to then get a physician to get the picture of what is wrong. I have watched new staff become proficient, mentored others, and felt proud when staff members I supervised rose to the occasion. I quickly learned that a kleenex box is a necessary tool of a manager and have held out kleenex for many tears ( both families, residents and staff ). Some days, I wanted far more than we were able to give, to staff, to residents and to ourselves.
With five years left to retirement ( except that was 8 yrs ago ) I changed positions again – feeling the need for a more relaxed pace. Here I learned that some of my skills were in looking at stats and computer programs and making reports and searching for the best solution. I have enjoyed my last step of my career immensely and found a new niche where I least expected it.
I have wondered sometimes why I chose this career, but never regretted the choice! I am glad I stepped out of the ordinary to see beyond the tiredness, to see beyond the angry and sad people. I am glad that I am able to see that nursing is far more than what we first expect and I know that I am, as the saying says, – right where I am supposed to be this moment ( and many of those moments in the past )
Happy Nurses Week to my fellow nurses !