Secret things nurses REALLY think
iStock | agsandrew
Every nurse has them: those nasty little non-nursey thoughts that sneak into your brain like steel-toothed ferrets during a hard day.
They’re the thoughts that civilians hope we never actually think, the ones we feel guilty about, the ones we never admit we have until we’re in a well-lubricated frame of mind and in a safe place.
Auntie Agatha has those thoughts, and she’s not afraid to share them. Read on, my poppets….
1. Sometimes I don’t like you very much.
Seriously? Sometimes you piss me off. It doesn’t matter whether the “you” in question is a doctor, a patient, a family member, a lab tech or one of the pizza delivery dudes: You occasionally piss me right off. I’m only human, after all, and this job can hit stress levels that make a Red Terror Alert look like a day in a Victorian novel, all lace and picnics.
Even though I look patient and caring, inside I’m seething. I take care of it with AA: Advil and Alcohol, the nurse’s therapy of choice.
2. Sometimes I don’t like myself very much, either.
There are days when I’m just not as patient or I’m having communication problems or things just don’t seem to go right, and I’m filled with self-loathing. It takes some doing to remember that just because I do stupid things, I am not a stupid person; I’m merely having a stupid moment. Likewise, making a mistake doesn’t mean I need to turn in my license. It means I’ve made a mistake. Sometimes these feelings paralyze me, even after nearly a decade of being a nurse, and I wonder if I should go back to waiting tables.
3. I take a deep breath and steel myself when certain patients come out of surgery.
There are the doctors for whom every surgery is a foreverectomy, whose patients come back intubated and cold and physically exhausted while still unconscious. There are the doctors whose patient population is so old, poor, malnourished, unhealthy or otherwise deprived—through no fault of their own—that even a minor surgery is a major undertaking. And there are the doctors who dash in and out of the room so fast that their patients are left with more questions than answers.
When I see you coming, patients of those doctors, I steel myself. I know it’s going to be a long night. I know you’ll have pain, that you’ll be frightened, that I’ll have trouble reaching your surgeon for additional orders. The best I can do in some cases is to get through it with you. The only comfort I can offer is that while you hurt, I’m thinking of nothing else.
4. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve killed somebody.
This is one of those middle-of-the-night thoughts that every nurse has about a patient or two. What if the medicine I gave that person hastened his death? What if the procedure we performed at the bedside led directly to her going down the tubes? What could I have done differently?
5. I do not want a nurse like me when I have surgery.
Because you never look as good to yourself as other people do, I have a fear of ending up with a nurse like me when I have surgery. I know deep down that I’m a good nurse, that I do everything expected of me and more, but I see all the little linty corners of my own brain as I’m working. I know all the places I skimp so that I can spend time on stuff I think is more important, like just sitting with a patient at 3 a.m. I know how resentful I can be toward a resident. I know how hard I try and how hard I work, but somehow I never seem to be as good as the people I work with, whom I idolize.
6. I would never, ever, ever do anything else.
If I won the lottery tomorrow, would I keep working? You bet my rapidly widening butt I would. I love what I do with a fierceness I never expected I would feel, and I love my patients—even the ones who drive me crazy—the same way. Nursing has its moments of sheer boredom and repetition, as well as soul-searingly hard, gross, dirty work, but when it’s good, there’s nothing like it. There is no better feeling than having somebody say to me, “I was scared before, but you made me feel better.” There are no words that’ll make my shoulders straighten faster than “Thank you, Nurse.”
I want to get better at my job every time I do it. I want to do everything right, keep improving my skills and keep learning new things. Every interaction I have, no matter which side of the bed I’m on, is an opportunity for me to do better at my job. And I love that.
7. Because of all of these things, both bad and good, I am incredibly lucky.
Most people get the chance to touch two or three lives in a meaningful way. I’ve got my two or three, and I’m only a third of the way into my career. I am the most fortunate woman I know. I work harder than any of my friends. I have more heartache than most people. I work crazy hours, my feet hurt and occasionally my job is dangerous and dirty.
I am a nurse. And I still grin ear to ear when I say that.
Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Agatha Lellis