Before I started college, I never really thought much about the profession of nursing. But once I hit twenty one that all changed. I was one of those early twenty-year-olds that every parent hopes they never have: the early twenty-year-old who changes majors more times than they change clothes.
I started off with Earth Science and then changed to a major that, had I acquired the degree, would have been catastrophic. Nursing.
I was studying at Lyndon State College, a college that is currently in danger of being closed due to state budget concerns. I heard of their two-year nursing program which would run remotely from another state college, Castleton. I would be able to fulfill my sciences and other electives at Lyndon and then take nursing-specific classes remotely from Castleton. By the end of the two-year course, I would be a qualified LPN and then could work on becoming an RN. I love people so I thought nursing would be a perfect match. I got all of my supplies, including a groovy white lab coat, name tag, and stethoscope, and began my courses.
Nursing was hard. As anyone who has attempted to enter any medical field knows, keeping all of that information in your head- the numbers and medical terms, the best bedside and sanitary practices is daunting. There were times, most times, in fact, where I felt like I was drowning in information, unable to see where interacting with patients came in. Spoiler alert, the patient care is in there, deep in that hurricane of information, but you have to have the numbers, labels, and terms down pat before you can focus on patient interaction.
Establishing trust, as many know, is the first step to creating a healthy relationship between a nurse and a patient. If you don’t know the factual information inside and out, and feel confident in yourself, a patient can be like a dog and can smell the fear on you the moment you walk in the door, creating a relationship of unease and distrust.
These are not the best feelings to be having when you’re seeking medical care.
The patient needs to be able to trust that the nurse knows her stuff. In order for the nurse to know her stuff, she has to… you know… know her stuff.
All the stuff. There is no way around it.
I finished the first part of my nursing program doing fairly well. My grades were good and I was excited about going into the second half of the year, which included doing clinical rounds at a local nursing home. I would be able to interact with patients, the thing I was the most excited about.
Then the second half of the year began and I found myself in a situation I never would have expected.
We began rounds at the nursing home not long after returning to school from vacation. We all looked so cute with our perfectly white coats, clipboards, and stethoscopes. I’m sure the nursing home staff was laughing at how green we all seemed behind our backs. We were each assigned a nursing home resident. The day before we did our clinical rotation, we would go to the nursing home, grab their file, and write down as much information as we could about him or her. We wrote what medication they were on, how much, any side effects, any medical procedures that were noteworthy, and all of their vitals. The following day, we would visit our patient and collect vitals and help in other areas of the nursing home.
The first day came and I stood in the hallway of the nursing home shaking with nerves. I kept telling myself, I know how to take blood pressure, temperature, and can ask the proper questions. I know how to do it. Once I got in the room with the patient, I would be fine. Patient care was the whole reason I was doing this.
The day began, and I took my nursing home resident’s vitals and talked with her for a bit to get to know her, and then a member of the staff said that she needed compression stockings put on her legs.
The staff member lifted the woman’s dress. The woman’s legs were swollen and red. There were even spots that looked like they might be bedsores. The woman stiffened in the chair. She had clearly gone through this before and was bracing herself for some pain.
I don’t think I need those today,” she said through gritted teeth.
Yes, you do. You need them every day,” the staff member said.
She handed them to me and I bit my bottom lip. I was about to do something to this woman that she didn’t want me to do, that she was scared of.
I couldn’t even offer her any reassurance, because at this moment, I needed it myself.
I began to work the stockings onto her legs and she started to clench the arms of the chair. She began moaning in pain. My hands were definitely shaking now. I looked to the staff member who saw my terrified face and was gracious enough to help me. I left the room feeling sick to my stomach. I had just inflicted pain on another individual, for their own good, but pain nonetheless.
I had never thought, foolishly, that this too would be part of the job.
Days passed and this same scenario happened time and time again. Patients would need something for their own good but would say they didn’t because those things would make them uncomfortable.
I never got used to it and I knew that the next semester would involve IV drips and needles.
How could I ever begin to do this when I couldn’t even handle putting compression socks onto a patient? I left nursing school before my second year and finally found my home in the Graphic Design program at Champlain College.
I still have my stethoscope. My kids play with it when they play doctor. But every time it comes out, I thank God that I didn’t continue down that path to a nursing degree.
I know I am not the right person for that job.
Those months studying nursing gave me an enormous appreciation for people in the medical field.
Whenever you are in the hospital and someone helps you, it’s easy to forget that that person had to endure years of training and clinical rotations where they were asked to do any number of things that they had felt terrified to do. And yes, they have made patients uncomfortable for their own good and have reached a point where they are confident enough to do that. They have reached the point where a patient can look at them and feel assured that they have their wellbeing in mind. Health care workers are incredible people. They have to be flawless at what they do. They have to be scientifically minded, be able to mentally multitask without pause, and still have a warm exterior and bedside manner that evokes trust in those they are trying to help.
Lastly, they need to love what they do, all aspects of it.
I am thankful for every medical professional that I have been helped by, even if I was struggling to really hear what they had to say at the time. Like an adult who looks back at their childhood, I know that these incredible people work hard for each and every one of us, just as we parents work hard for our children.