HAPPY NURSES DAY (AND LET’S NOT FORGET ALL HEALTH CARE WORKERS THIS NURSES WEEK)!!!
Over 40 plus years ago
and after much prayer and a stint as a nanny on Long Island, I came home to Maine to be a nurse.
The decision to be a Registered Nurse or a Licensed Practical Nurse was hard. At the time, the RN’s were doing mostly paperwork and overseeing. I wanted the hands-on experience, and the best option was the LPN program. There was a nurses program in the local state school, which was convenient. After commuting for a bit, I decided I wanted the dorm life. What a life it was. There very few of us as it was an all-female dorm; you had to entertain male visitors in the sitting room. The house mother was a real stickler, and if you were not in by the curfew of 9 o’clock, you rang the doorbell and sure had some explaining to do.
I have always been a night person, but that changed for a time. The early mornings were rough, but the time flew by. We had an old army nurse who taught us so much— fun things like how to make a drinking cup or bedpan out of newspaper. At the end of school and after my exams, I got married. He was Air Force, and we were to travel- our first station was at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. Fortunately, New Hampshire is a compact state, and I was able to work without doing another state’s nurses board.
I have always been a night person,
and while that is good for the third shift, not everyone has the same appreciation.
My parents were in their 40’s when I was born. My poor mother having a baby, along with older children, was bad enough, but this night owl did not sleep at night. That is possibly why my passion was/is the geriatric population. In this country, they tend to get cast aside. In reality, they just want to be loved, cherished, honored, and feel that they matter and can offer wisdom.
So, I went to work at a convalescent center. It was great, and I loved it.
We became pregnant, and our first child was born. That is when my husband and I made the decision for me to stay home. Fresh out of the hospital, we traveled home, and the first place we stopped was at a “nursing home” to let my grandmother be the first to see this bundle of joy. They were in the dining room for lunch and of course, most every “old person”- man or woman- loves children and babies. My grandmother was ecstatic.
I overheard one of the nurses say to another nurse, “I can’t believe she’d bring a newborn in here to catch something.” I immediately turned to her and said, “I’m pretty sure if you are doing your job, the only thing she will catch is old age, and she’s already caught that.” In today’s world, I probably would not do that again-
but by calling out the nurses, I am positive that small act of kindness to my grandmother and the other residents made their day. That is certainly a moment I have cherished.
Two more children,
much and more moving with the military, and later a divorce- the three children and I were back “home” in Maine.
Now, as a divorced woman raising three children, I had no choice but to go back to work as a nurse.
Thankfully, the elderly were still prevalent and in need. Once again, with many options, it was off to a local nursing home for me. Things were a tad more lenient than they had been, including holidays when I would have the kids visit with me. At Christmas, all three young children came to visit with their new toys.
One year sticks out the most; My daughter with her baby doll, one son with his remote-control car, and the other son with his bunny that had a stethoscope where you could hear it’s heart beating. Well, at this time, a lot of people had never heard their heartbeat, and if I let them try my stethoscope, it was too faint. This little bunny with its cute stethoscope was just the thing; the “patients’ heartbeats magnified enough that those that wanted could hear their heartbeat. All the able-bodied individuals who could get around loved playing with the toys while entertaining and enjoying the children’s company. This particularly memorable year, one of the male residents said, “I miss being out in the snow.”
It was snowing outside- a Christmas snow. Knowing I was probably about to get in trouble- but gauging the risk worth it- I sought to grant this residents Christmas Wish.
In the entryway, as decorations, there were a bunch of cattails (genus Typha), I went and got them while the resident stared after me. Disregarding the other nurse’s disapproving glares, I burst those cattails open, making it “snow.” The janitorial staff was not happy with me, especially when I proceeded to fill up a bucket or two of real snow for all the residents to enjoy. However, after seeing the elderly residents beaming faces and hearing them laugh (along with me repeatedly promising I would clean it up), the janitors were alright.
Those are some of the best moments as a health care worker. These people and their families become like a part of your family.
Their good times influence your good times- their bad times just as influential. It takes a toll, no matter the age, when someone dies. Another hard part is when the family wants to “hang” onto their family instead of “letting them go”- or, on the flip side, not getting involved at all.
All the while, your own family is growing and changing.
While my family grew and changed,
nursing was also changing. The crisp white uniforms and nursing hats were out, instead, replaced by “scrubs.” The “classical” strict discipline was also on the way out; nurses were not taking pride in how they looked or acted like we once had. The 8-hour shifts changed into 12-hour shifts. As a single parent, it meant sacrificing the moment for their well-being later, ultimately meaning I missed things. Luckily, my family was able to help care for my children. An incident occurred when I had been working a few nights in a row. My youngest fell off my sister’s high kitchen stool and hit his head. My shift had just started (isn’t that how parenting always works?), and so I had to leave work and meet them at the hospital. When I walked in, my youngest shied away from me. This made the nurse question if I was his mother, and if so, why wasn’t he going to me? I knew where she was headed with this, but fortunately, the doctor knew me, so all ended well.
The clues were obvious. The kids needed me around more; unfortunately, I did not have money to let someone else raise them.
At this point, I decided to pursue my RN degree- which meant taking classes while working— sacrificing the moment for their well-being later. Being a mother (or a parent) isn’t easy. Thankfully my kids were my sounding board and study buddies.
With determination and drive, I was asked (and accepted) a position as a nurse at a music camp. Blessedly, it allowed me to bring my children with me most times. My oldest had her first babysitting gig there and was given music lessons. The instrument was not her choice… but rather an ulterior motive of mine to meet a certain clarinet teacher from NY.
After a few years of working there, that music teacher and I were married. He became an instant dad of three children, on top of being married for the first time. A year after our honeymoon, we became pregnant for child number 4. At this point, I put school and work on hold. We knew we did not want him to be an “only” child, ten years in between our youngest and this one. The next pregnancy resulted in twins and then after that one more, a daughter, equaling seven children altogether—a girl, five boys, and then another girl.
When the children and my parents were a little older, I became a school nurse part-time. That brought with it its own challenges. The school situation being what it is, one can not embrace children (long before the coronavirus) even knowing you would be the only hug that child got. That was excruciating. You are a sounding board, a healer, and a confidant for the students- a hug is very much part of that.
Meanwhile, on the home front, my parents were marching toward their end times. Scouts and church and committees oh my- life can consume you, and you won’t even realize. My mother always said, “the older you get, the faster time goes.” You do not believe it when you are young; it’s not until your much older yourself that you believe it. My mother became ill, and no matter what, you cannot stop the process. My heart broke that day. Now my father was the only one left, and he and I had a few years of healing, thanks to God.
Life continued somehow (as it always does), and my husband and I started homeschooling the last four children.
My parents and my husband’s parents, two of his siblings, and one of mine are gone—nothing in my power to stop it.
I went back to my passion after the children were older- working the night shift as I love. It is my element. My only regret is not getting my RN degree. Some people think less of you and do not consider you a nurse. I once had a family member say, “you’re only an LPN, which means “let’s pretend nurse.” That hurt me so much; I hated telling people what I was. I would only say nurse, and unfortunately, lots of times, they assumed RN (“real nurse” according to that same family member). So, when anyone asked my opinion of becoming a nurse, I would adamantly tell them only to settle for RN or beyond.
Behind closed doors, I raised my children better than that; I taught them that no job is beneath them.
My oldest son, who is a biomedical engineer, among other degrees, went back to school to be a nurse. As he was schooling, he was a Certified Nursing Assitant. He witnessed firsthand the discrimination and how some “RN’s and others” look down on someone in a different position than theirs.
The one thing I always made sure to do was to thank the people that worked with me, especially the CNA’s. They are the nurse’s eyes and ears- invaluable.
Recently, I had a bout with cancer
and had to retire early, which has caused me great distress in this time of COVID 19, and the need for nurses. I no longer feel valuable, unable to contribute, watching while my son and daughter in law are nursing in COVID units which have changed from their usual critical care units. Another of my daughters in law is a nurse in a dialysis unit. Our youngest daughter has just accepted a job as an x-ray technician so that she will be in the throw of things also.
Truthfully, all my children have a passion for helping others in one way or another. If I cannot help at this time, knowing my offspring are picking up where I left off, eases the pain.
The stress from being unable to help is wearing on me, though; on the one hand, I am glad not to be in nursing- on the other hand, I feel left behind and guilty because I am not. Nursing is a part of me, just like being a mother. Motherhood is the most important role to me, but nursing is in my blood nonetheless. I longingly recall days of nursing boo-boos (real or imagined) and all the other things that go hand in hand between mothers and nursing. The child becomes the caregiver, and the parent becomes the one needing the care. I miss doing both now that I am the one on the road to the older end of life.