I am sitting in a coffee shop, thinking about my patient. I am off-duty, so to speak, but is a nurse ever really off-duty? There is something about nursing that I feel only true nurses understand – that a nurse cannot be described or characterized, for the nurse is everything and nothing at the same time. The nurse is exactly who he or she needs to be at any given moment. Right now, I am worried about my patient as a family member might worry. During my clinical rotation, I read to him as I imagine his parents once did. I check his meds, advocating for his safety. I clean him when he is dirty, seeing him at his worst but not judging him. I stand between him and his illness, defending him as if he were the last person on Earth and I was appointed to protect him.
Nurses tend to be seen as practitioners of skills, handmaidens of doctors who follow orders and little else. Though I am new to this career, I can say that nurses are anything but THAT; they do far more than pass meds and give injections. As I sit here, wondering how my patient is doing and wishing I could do more for him, I realize that the boundaries of my chosen profession are as limitless as life is. Nurses are, in many ways, society’s defenders. They are by nature social and political beings, for they advocate for the little person and argue for the needs of real people against forces that often seek to deny them. They contend with illnesses that mean to hurt their patients, and all throughout strive to diminish themselves in order to elevate their ward. When the patient has no friends, no family, few resources, and little hope, the nurse arrives on the scene and fills in all the gaps. The nurse becomes hope, becomes a resource, becomes a family member and friend – becomes the medicine against illness, becomes a light when all the lights have gone out.
I have been told to be careful about becoming too close to my patients, about making it too personal, about protecting my heart and remembering that it is “just a job.” How does a nurse do that exactly? Nursing is NOT just a job, and whoever thinks so is deeply misguided. When a person decides to become a nurse, he or she is expected to become a superhero but without superpowers, without resources, and without fame or wealth. When I signed up for nursing, I signed up to be the one to sit in a coffee shop and worry about a patient I don’t really know. I signed up to fight for him, to advocate for him, to make him feel like the most important person in the world, at the expense of myself. Nursing is about existing to be somebody for someone else, a million times over.