Elizabeth Tillotson is a student in the nursing program at St. Catherine University, Minneapolis. Contact author: email@example.com. Reflections is coordinated by Madeleine Mysko, MA, RN: firstname.lastname@example.org. Illustration by Annelisa Ochoa.
It's the night before the first day I will actually need to look like a nurse, the first day of my mentorship on the intermediate care unit.
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I get my uniform all ready. I can hear mom's voice in my head: “Wrinkled clothes make you look less than you are.”
Add “iron uniform” to checklist. Double-check list.
Lay out uniform. Pin name tag on, check with Significant Other to make sure it “looks straight.”
Get stethoscope, hospital badge, and watch all laid out in one spot.
Double- and triple-check alarm so I don't oversleep. Make Significant Other do the same.
Midnight: Wake up… hope I don't oversleep.
2 AM: Why am I awake? Now I'll oversleep for sure.
2:15 AM: I guess it's OK to go to sleep…. I should sleep. I'll look tired and incompetent if I don't sleep. What am I doing? A nurse? Really?
3 AM: I'm screwed. I'm not sleeping. A nurse? Are you sure? No, I'm not sure, but I've already paid for the first semester—no turning back.
4:30 AM: I guess I slept some. But only one more hour and I have to get up. No, I shouldn't be a nurse.
5:30 AM: ALARM! I'm tired, I'm excited, I'm nuts. Yes, I am nuts, that's it. It's just temporary, it will pass, please, please, let it pass.
I don my uniform. One look in the mirror: This is a long way from my business suit and heels. I take a deep breath. I've gone this far. I have to go one more day. I think, “This is a good thing!” This is a good thing? My mom's voice again: “Punctuation can change everything.”
I report on time to my station. I present myself, lunch in hand, as confidently as I can. I'm greeted with smiles and warmth, and if I look really closely, a tinge of sympathy, which I accept.
My day is busy. I make mistakes. A half hour into the day, my mentor is showing me the electronic records system. “OK,” she says, “now you log on and check our patients.” I promptly click on the wrong program and launch software that will take 15 minutes to download. My mentor smiles and helps me click my way out of danger.
We are with a patient ready for discharge. Just one last check of vitals. My mentor instructs me to take the patient's BP. I think about the class lecture that week: patients judge you on how competent you are—especially if you're a student.
I try to put the cuff on as if I have done it a hundred times before. It barely fits. I check the size. I already have a large. I put it on and hit the button. The cuff begins to inflate. I hear the Velcro come to life as it strains to hold together under the increased pressure. Watching it grow, I'm terrified: Oh, please God, let it hold. I glance at the monitor: 160, 170, 180… the Velcro is angry, it doesn't care about me or God. It blows apart—taunting me, laughing at me as it slowly loses pressure, recoiling like a satisfied snake.
I apologize to the patient, tell her again that I'm learning. “That's OK,” she says with a gentle smile, “we all make mistakes. I'm just glad I can help you learn. This isn't the first time that's happened.” I put on my game face and try again, this time with success.
I realize my patient has just helped me learn, that she's attempting to take care of me and that maybe God did answer my desperate prayer. I failed at something, exposed myself—and in return, I got a smile, empathy, and encouragement from a total stranger.
The rest of the day is filled with hope for patients courageously fighting for a better state of health, and a profound admiration for those just fighting that fight because they still can.
When I go to bed that night, exhausted and depleted, I think of all the patients I had today. Are they OK? Did my blood pressure patient get to go home? Did the patient with kidney failure have a successful procedure?
I hope all of them are resting well.
What different thoughts I have in my head tonight. Just one last thought before I fall asleep:
I don't think I'll be a good nurse. I know I'll be a good nurse.
© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.