All the Things We Carry
A nurse looks at what nursing means. Some of the things we see are heartbreaking, and some is beautiful. Much of it affects us, and some of it we carry forever. I’ve carried a lot with me over thirteen years of nursing. Here’s a glimpse…
Every so often, a thread pops up around here: “What’s in your pockets?” In other words, what do you carry that you know you’ll need before your shift is up? Most of us carry alcohol swabs (never enough of those), penlights, probably a syringe or two, some 2x2s, tape, and it’s a running joke on my unit that real nurses carry hemostats.
And heaven help the soul who arrives at the end of shift and can’t find her brain sheet. That’s painful in a way only a nurse can understand.
Not too long ago I stopped to help at the scene of a vehicular accident as I was driving in to work. Looking at the single car involved, it was a miracle anyone survived, much less had a patent airway. One of the other first responders had gloves for us but PPE can be a bit limited when you’re standing in the middle of a highway. Back to the point, I got back in my car and got to work a little late; as I was driving in, I noticed a smear of blood up my arm that wasn’t mine. Not ideal, but it happens.
I got to work, gave everything a good scrub, and got thinking.
All these things I’ve mentioned are visible things we nurses carry with us, sometimes permanently and others not. But we carry so much with us that no one will ever see or know about. It’s usually a mix of (to quote a classic movie) the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What do I carry?
I carry with me the tears of a father that he cried over his baby who never had a chance to take his first breath. The baby they’d tried for four years to have.
I carry with me the woman who had lived with domestic violence for over two decades, her arms covered in scars from shielding herself as he attempted to stab her to death. “No matter where I go, he will find me and kill me,” she said.
I carry the gratitude of a twenty-something man who had what was then called ‘full-blown AIDS’ and still being written off by too many as a ‘gay plague’ and other nonsense. He was dying and he knew it, suffering with horrible neuropathy and on amounts of morphine that would knock everyone I know into the next world. It barely touched his pain. No one ever came to see him. I’m not sure which hurt him worse. We bonded over the course of several days and he mentioned in passing that he was really craving a Butterfinger. Hospital policy dictated that we weren’t supposed to bring food to patients, but I pretended not to know that when I got a couple Butterfingers from the gift shop (yes, he was still on a regular diet). The look on his face when I snuck them in to him…..I can still see it. He died a couple weeks later.
There are the twin daughters of a patient who was with us for months before she died. I remember their names and faces. They were never anything but kind and grateful for the care their mother received, even when they had their grief over her impending death to smack them in the face every day.
I carry the exhilaration and happy tears shed when men and women become fathers and mothers. The delight that overtakes a new mom when her baby looks at her like he’s known her forever, or a daddy when a contented baby falls asleep on his chest, is something that can’t be bought.
What about you? What do you carry?