If you are to ever find yourself laying in a hospital bed, or are the family member of a hospitalized patient, I urge you to please say these two words to your nurse: “Thank you.” Those two small words go a long way. Nurses see you at your most vulnerable point, your sickest. Sometimes your rock bottom. We are there as you are literally laying on your death bed. The doctors are the ones that always seem to get all the credit for their five minutes of fame. I’m not knocking the doctors and saying they deserve little to no recognition, they certainly do. Nurses are there to implement their orders and make sure everybody’s ass is covered (literally and figuratively speaking).
Nurses are at your bedside to help you heal. We are the ones dressing your wounds, making sure the boo boos don’t get worse. With the help of our kick-butt care attendants (aides, techs, assistants), we make sure to turn and reposition you to make sure a bedsore does not develop. People actually do die from bedsores and it is our job to prevent these hospital acquired disasters. When we are behind the curtain helping you bathe, we are actually assessing you head to toe and you probably do not even realize it. We nurses are the ones to report any abnormal findings to the doctor. Your nurse is the one to let your doctor know if things are starting to take a turn for the worse. We are the doctors eyes, ears, nose and hands.
For everyone’s sake, I hope to someday see mandatory staffing ratios. On a hospital floor, a nice and good safe number is four patients pending the acuity of the assignment. On the day shift, I have had as high as seven patients. On the night shift, I have had nine patients. So if you are my patient and receive the high standard of care that I am proud to give to you, remember that I have to give the same standard of care to at least three other patients (on a good day). When I say high standard of care, this means that I will safely administer your medication, make sure all of your needs are met, while also treating you as if you are a member of my family. On top of the care that I give, I also have to chart my life away to document that I have done all the work. I will take care of your loved one the same way that I would want to see my family taken care of. I will take care of you and your family in a way that you are completely unaware of the fact that my other patient just died or that I had another patient throw their lunch tray at me.
Being a nurse is downright exhausting. We pour our blood, sweat, and tears into making sure you and/or your family’s wishes are met. Some days, it is easy. Other days, it is the most challenging thing we will do. Let me count the ways: When your patient, no matter the age, wants everything done to stay alive but their body is fighting and wanting the complete opposite. When you see the same patient being admitted multiple times because they refuse to be compliant with their plan of care after discharge. When you see families torn apart over end-of-life decisions. When you are taking care of a young person recovering from an overdose and you know that this near death experience still won’t be enough of a wake-up call. The list could go on for days. A patient’s life depends on the nurse being awake, alert, and able to quickly critically think in a moment’s notice. Our systems run on caffeine and peanut butter crackers from the patient kitchen. Even though we are exhausted, we must never act it.
As a nurse, we spend very long shifts away from our families. It’s become the norm for a nurse to work a twelve hour shift in the hospital. Sometimes longer depending on the day or staffing needs. It is also common for a nurse to not have time to take a break, or not take their first break until it’s already nine or ten hours into their shift. There are some days that I can judge how busy the day is by how much my pee smells when I do take a bathroom break. I know some nurses with some serious bladders of steel that have some mega holding power. Nurses put so much energy and devotion into their job that by the time they get home, there is hardly energy left to give to anyone else. I’m grateful that by the time I walk through the door after my shift that my children are asleep in their beds. Have I missed them terribly? Of course. But do I have it in me to read them a bedtime story? Unlikely. I pretty much am only capable of laying pantless on the couch with a glass of wine with Grey’s Anatomy on the television. I’m usually asleep before I can even drink half of my glass of wine.
As a nurse, it does feel good to finish your shift knowing that you have done all that you could have done for your patient. It feels great knowing that you made some sort of difference, no matter how big or small. But the best is feeling appreciated and hearing a completely honest and heartfelt “thank you.”