Regrets of an experienced nurse…


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Ask any experienced nurse if he or she has regrets, and you’ll get a bucket load. Some of us regret not advocating harder for a patient who was in some dire strait or another. Some of us regret not getting out of a really toxic work situation earlier (it creeps up on you, like the frog in the slowly heating pot of water who doesn’t know he’s being boiled alive).

I really, really regret falling prey to Nurse Habits. The breakfast from the cafeteria on the days when wings are all-you-can-eat, the lunches of fries and something unidentifiable on the days when you don’t get a lunch break, the glass(es) of wine when you get home from work.

At first, I did great. I came home, went straight to bed to ruminate over work for a half hour, then slept as though I’d been stunned. I made sure I worked out at least three hours a week. My diet, while not great, was mostly devoid of those fries-and-whatever lunches. Because I was married, and because my husband brought guests home for dinner all the time, there were always tasty leftovers to pack or snack on.

Then my marriage ended, my job stayed the same and for the first time, I was responsible for getting myself (and my cat) fed, for going to bed mostly on time and getting to the doctor as needed. Things fell apart. They fell apart in a good way, mind you—I learned how to relax about laundry getting folded and discovered which frozen dinners tasted okay—but the cumulative effects weren’t good.

If I had it to do over again, I would’ve taken more care of my stomach: what went into it, how it felt when my body was trying to signal that I was stressed. I would take better care of my back, knowing that it’d take five years to undo what three years of lifting wrong and not exercising did. I’d take better care of my spirit by reminding myself that I wasn’t the be-all and end-all when it came to doing things; other people could and would do some things willingly and well (or better than I could).

I’m not saying you have to live like a monk to be a nurse, or put your career ahead of having any fun. I’m just saying that your muscles and brain and guts make up who you are both professionally and personally, and that a lot of people depend on your best in both areas. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of patients. That’s not a cliché—that’s hard-won wisdom. So eat your veggies.

Agatha Lellis
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

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