Nursing differs from many other careers in that it centers around people at their most vulnerable. Hurting, shocked, crabby and defensive. Perhaps having just received a new diagnosis. Maybe even facing the chance of death or disability. Times that bring out both the best and worst from the human natures of individuals and families.
I sometimes question my readiness to exhibit the calm, steady nerve needed to guide these people through the stressful days at the hospital bedside. My classes have spent a lot of time giving up the tools to manage these situations through discussions and simulated scenarios, but I am, as of yet, completely untried. How will I respond in real life crisis, when I am in charge?
Recently, I and a few siblings joined a church group gathering at a local nursing home to sing Christmas carols. This was the same facility where I had worked for a year at the beginning of my nursing studies. It’s been three years since I worked there, yet as soon as I walked through the doors, I remembered the regular rhythm of the nurse assistant’s day. The rush of helping everyone retire for the evening, six people vying for your attention at once. The moments bringing small comforts to those who enjoy their evening such as books or sweet snacks. And the careful, quiet walk through the halls in order to not wake those who suffer from sundowning, a high level of anxiety and disorientation in the evening due to confusion and fatigue that often affects those with dementia.
As I walked those hallways, I relived some of the most tender times I shared with those in my care. I flipped through photo albums of those patients, talking about the highlights and memories from their lives. These memories are now bittersweet, and I found myself blinking through misty eyes. No matter how much I try to maintain a professional distance needed for clear judgments and actions, I end up forming bonds with certain patients. When you stay with someone through their weakest moments, celebrate their small successes, and are the hand on their shoulder to comfort them when they are afraid, they end up touching you deeper than you know. As I begin my work in the field of nursing, I know that I will be collecting memories as I go. Memories both sweet and sad, and many will stay with me forever.