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Personal Experience

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Why couldn’t I breathe-I found an answer to my career

Language: English
Country: Lithuania
Typology: health care professionals
I’ve been asked the question so many times by so many people that it no longer surprises me. After all, who in their right mind would give up being a teacher, a doctor, to become a nurse?I made a mid-life career change that many people, including a lot of nurses, do not understand, and certainly would not have made themselves. People often ask me if I’m crazy. I’m not, but even I can admit that it’s an unusual choice requiring some explanation. After having my son, I realized I wanted a job where I was expected to care about people, not grade or judge them. Then I had my son, and my world turned inside out and upside down with the physical challenges of the pregnancy. The midwives who helped me through the pregnancy left a lasting impression, and when I mentioned my admiration for them, a friend who’s a nurse told me, “You could do that job.” Soon after that conversation, I decided to go to nursing school. Six years later, when my son was 5, I got my Bachelor D. But I don’t think even I fully understood my decision until the last night of the very last shift I would ever do as a nursing student. That night an 11-year-old leukemia patient who had a fever arrived on my floor at a children’s hospital. He and his dad talked and joked with each other, started watching movies on the TV in their room right away.. I got the impression they were trying to convince us, and themselves, that an impromptu hospital stay could be fun if you just had the right attitude. Some other nurses had warned me that this family was “difficult,” but they seemed O.K. to me. The dad had a bad back and asked repeatedly for more pillows. The patient, testing out some preteen behaviors, could be rude, so I teased him about saying “please” and “thank you” as I handed over cartons of apple juice. I described him to the resident as “cheeky,” but I liked him. Latter on I went to check on him. As I walked into his room he looked up at me in the darkness and said, “It feels like I can’t breathe. My chest hurts.” Alarm bells went off in my head, scaring me and drowning out some of my confidence. “Oh, gee, that sounds bad,” I thought to myself. “What am I going to do about that?” But then I did all the things nurses do: made sure he could breathe, called the resident about his change in status, and quickly left to retrieve the equipment to take a set of vitals. When I got back to the room, the boy said he needed to go to the bathroom. I helped him walk, but halfway there his knees buckled. He cried out, “I can’t see! I can’t see!” I held him up, then picked him up and somehow got him into the bathroom and onto the toilet. I took his blood pressure twice. It was 70 over 30, much too low, and probably the cause of his temporary blindness. When I checked to make sure he was safe sitting on the toilet by himself he yelled out, “Can’t a man take a crap in peace?” The doctors were worried that his low blood pressure meant he was going into septic shock and decided he needed the more intense technical support available in the pediatric intensive care unit. In the morning, and before the transfer to intensive care, I went to check on him. The room was still dark as night, and I hoped he had fallen back asleep. Instead, he spoke to me. His earlier cheekiness was gone, and I found myself confronted by a very scared 11-year-old boy. “Why couldn’t I breathe?” he asked. And “Why did my chest hurt?” And “How come I couldn’t see?” Answers and pieces of answers swirled around in my head. Everything I thought of seemed overly technical, but also just inadequate. I offered him answers, mostly having to do with his low blood pressure, but in my concern for him I wasn’t putting together everything I knew. However, right or wrong, convincing or unconvincing, my responses comforted him. He stopped talking and relaxed back into bed. Our brief conversation could be categorized as “patient education,” but my patient and I exchanged something more substantial than information when we talked. He found a way to ask, “What’s wrong with me?” and “Am I going to die?” And I told him, “I don’t completely know, but whatever happens I am here with you.” There we were, nurse and patient, talking quietly in a dark room, confronting the vagaries of life and death. For me this moment finally put to rest any questions I had about why I quit being a professor and became a nurse instead. My patient and I confronted the human condition during our brief talk. I answered his questions, and I met his fear with compassion. In my job now, as with most hospital nursing, I see it all: the struggles with treatment, the confrontation with death, the successes that gladden all our hearts. It’s messy and stressful and I wouldn’t exchange it for a dream classroom full of well-read, hard-working, intellectually curious college students — not in a million years, not ever. For where else can I go to sample daily the richness of life in all its profound chaos.

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