Woke up the other morning. Just like any other morning. Went downstairs to have a cup of coffee and looked at the date: May 12th. Exactly 5 years since I graduated from nursing school. Whoa. Has it really been that quick? Wow, it hasn’t been longer? Both questions rattled around in my head and I pondered through the coffee.
Nursing school is now a healed scar, no longer painful, but still there. The things I learned sit way back in the dusty recesses of my brain waiting to be called on to answer questions and guide my practice. By the standards I am no longer a novice, now ranging into at least the competent range, but days I still feel like a wet-behind-the-ears new grad. Thinking back to those days, I realize how much I have grown, both as a nurse and as a human. But I also see how much I’ve changed, not always for the better.
My senior English teacher (Hi Mrs. Miller!) as our high school years were winding down, had us write a letter to ourselves 4 years in the future after graduation. We were supposed to write our vision of where we would be, what things would be going on in our lives, just generally how we got on after high school. She kept them and mailed them four years after our graduation. I had forgotten all about the exercise when that letter showed up. It was childish really, the things I wrote about. It showed a young man obviously grasping for a sense of self and a path to follow, something I was missing at the time. I was following the approved path of going to college after high school, but there was no verve, no desire, no passion to what I thought I should be doing at that point. All very superficial. Such was the mind-set of a 18 year old.
I wish I had done something like that at the end of nursing school. I probably would have told myself that I would be working in an ED or ICU, finished my BSN, chasing a couple of kids around, generally living the good life. The approved life. Y’know, wife, kids, white picket fence, living on easy street in happy valley. I figured I had been through nursing school, that wonderful/horrible experience that instills the knowledge needed to be a nurse, or at least not to kill anyone on your first day. It set a foundation of knowledge. But it is nowhere the sum total of what you need. Probably would have thought I would have figured it all out by now.
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been as disillusioned as I am some days about the role and situation of a hospital nurse. Never would have entertained the idea of working short, pushing patient loads to the maximum, pushing extra shift after extra shift, and chasing combative psych patients down the hall. But then too, I wouldn’t have envisoined the support and praise of my peers the ones who say, “I’m glad it was you who was in charge tonight” when they had a rough night, nor the positive comments I get from patients calling the staff (and myself) “professionals” and “caring and truly dedicated folks”. Not having experienced the camaraderie of folks in the trenches I would have been shocked by the bonds that I’ve made with many other nurses, how with some there is no verbal communication, just a look that gets what you needed, that easy feeling knowing that when brown feculent matter strikes the oscillating air movement device that my colleagues have my back and show up to help post-haste.
I had no idea what amazing adventure I was getting myself into five years ago. By some strange combination of luck and perfect timing, with a little bit of skill I got to where I am. No letter I could have written could have forseen where I am today. Some days I’m shocked by how it has all played out. One thing I do know now, that I had only a glimmer of before is this: deep down I know this is what I am here for. I hope I never lose that feeling.