You know you're a nurse when ...

As I sit here, thinking about all of the healthcare conferences that go on October through November, I start to reflect on my healthcare career choice. Let me state that I love being a nurse and I can’t think of being anything else. But do you remember a time when there was a turning point, that is, there was something that actually framed or shaped WHO you would become in your career? 

I was a nursing student in my very first clinical rotation. I just KNEW I would ace this as I had already been working for quite a while as a nursing assistant and I was very comfortable giving hands-on care.

So here I was at St. Joseph’s Hospital and my assignment was handed to me by the nurses on the floor. (I recommend reading the fictional book I am going to write, “Eating Your Young: A Story of Nurse Mentoring.”)  No one told me they gave you the patients they absolutely didn’t want. It’s almost as if they had a conversation in the nursing station that went something like, “Hey, we have nursing students today that we can abuse … Who are the absolutely hardest, most difficult, most terrible patients we can give to these young things so they never, ever want to become a nurse?”

Like they gave no thought at all to the nursing shortage going on at that time and the fact that doing this would cause several of the students to grab their stethoscopes and run out the door screaming, never to return!

Now, for my entire life, I have been a Murphy’s Law magnet! So “Nurse (in training) Jackie” walks into her assigned room and there sits a man they brought in from the streets on night shift and NO ONE had done anything with or for him yet.

Our assignment was total nursing care: bathing, grooming, feeding if necessary, medications, treatments, etc.  Since we were essentially “babies,” they started us off with just one patient (thank goodness). This gentleman was caked in dirt, probably had not been bathed in a year, nails inches long, hair (facial as well) long and matted, and parts of it were in motion!

I honestly had never smelled anything like that before (though I have since, of course). I was told I would need to give him total care, including trimming those nails. What was worse, as I tried to start care, he was … resistant, calling me names I had honestly never heard before, spitting on me and lashing out.

I didn’t know what to do. They hadn’t taught us any of this in “theory” classes.

I knew I was going to fail clinicals.

If you don’t complete your assignment, you’re out. After all this time invested, I was going to fail! The harder I tried to force care on him, the harder he fought me. Tears of frustration were leaking down my face. I was mad. I kept thinking, “Why won’t you let me help you?” After all, this was about my nursing career right?

 But then, in walked the tiniest, oldest, dried-up prune of a nun you have ever seen. She was maybe 4-and-1/2-feet tall and probably 80 pounds soaking wet.  But what strength!  In one split second, she took the situation in, then looked right at me with piercing blue eyes and said, “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me,” and walked out of the room.

In that one statement she changed my life. She reframed things for me. This wasn’t about ME. It never could be about me. This was about making a decision to live a life with servant attitude. I had to make a decision: Who was I doing this for? Why did I want to be a nurse in the first place?

I turned around to my gentleman and I swear he felt my attitude adjustment. My whole approach had changed and he allowed me to serve him. 

You never know what form your saving grace comes in. Mine came in the form of a powerful “prune” who forever changed my life! So tell me: Who or what shaped how you would practice in your career?

Just keeping it real,

Nurse Jackie

The Real Nurse Jackie is written by Jacqueline Vance, RNC, CDONA/LTC, a 2012 APEX Award of Excellence winner for Blog Writing. Vance is a real life long-term care nurse who is also the director of clinical affairs for the American Medical Directors Association. A nationally respected nurse educator and past national LTC Nurse Administrator of the Year, she also is an accomplished stand-up comedienne. She has not starred in her own national television series — yet.