Ever wonder what it might be like to be a nurse? These days, jobs like mine – in the healthcare world – are among the most secure. I do live farther away from my place of work than most people, obviously it’s my choice to drive a long way. You know what? For me, it’s worth it. I love my job and especially in our unsure economy, I thank God for it daily. So here goes, a typical day-in-the-life of this nurse.
Wake up at a horrendous hour (4:15 am). Quickly say a prayer… a prayer for a good day, a prayer for safety on the highway, a prayer to be a blessing to someone that day, a prayer to come back home in two days again -safe and sound. Stumble around the house in near darkness, preparing for the day in rote fashion, thankful that you set out everything the night before – exactly what you’d need – exactly where you need it. Efficiently pack the overnight bag, two days worth of lunches, and run it all out to the already gassed up car. Dash back in to kiss hubby goodbye and grab the MUCH needed cup of coffee. Out the door in 25 minutes flat! Not bad! Crawl into the car; turn up the heater; flick on the high beam lights, there’s nobody around to be bothered by them anyway. Slip the latest audio CD into the CD player and drive like a robot while hoping it’s an interesting book this time. Get a bit dozy along the way – switch from the book to the news or some music and turn down the heater! Arrive bleary eyed into the parking garage after a one and one half hours drive at precisely 6:30 am. Scan your name tag – it’s also your parking pass. Check how much $$ is on your parking pass as you enter while mentally deducting the daily $12 and determine that yes, there is enough to pay for today’s parking. Drive through the garage until arriving at the desirable parking area. Begin the trek into the building, not far really, less than two blocks. Wonder while walking… “how will this day go, will we be busy, will it go fast?” Enter the brightly lit hallway – it’s always daytime inside. Trudge up the stairs and then into the nurse’s lounge where everything gets unloaded. Whew. Lots of “hi, how are you’s?” bantered about inside the lounge – a few minutes to catch up with the co-workers. And then it’s time. Time for the day to really begin.
You know, some people say hospitals have a “smell”. Some people are completely hospital-phobic. I can’t relate to either. While I won’t say a hospital with it’s smells, sights, and sounds are “comforting”, I would say that to me, it’s all “comfortable”. Guess that’s not too surprising after spending an entire career which is approaching 30 years, in hospitals.
I wander past the time clock, waving my name tag to clock in. Sometimes we joke about doing our jobs “out of the goodness of our hearts” – because after all, nurses are known to be caring individuals. Then we all laugh. While most of us love our jobs, I know we all appreciate the compensation we get every other Friday. At the front desk the charge nurse awaits with our assignments for the day. If it’s the first shift of your week, your assignment could be any of the 25 to 31 patients. To provide continuity of care, the patient you had yesterday is most always yours today too. Sometimes 3 babies, sometimes 4. Three is great! Four means it’s time to lace up your roller skates and focus hard on being as organized as possible. The patient is the baby, but caring for the family is also high priority. Learn all about your patients for the day from the night shift nurse. It’s how the day is planned. When to feed, what to feed, how to feed, when to medicate, whith what, what test results are pending, what tests are yet to be done, what IV is running and where, who’s going home, who needs extra teaching, who needs discharge teaching, and on and on and on.
For people who like to sit down and work on “Task A” until it’s done – well, nursing is NOT for you. First off, there’s not much in the way of sitting down at all! Completing a task in one sitting is pretty rare. We often say to each other – “sit down when you can!”. That means – sit when you feed a baby, sit when it’s time to chart, sit AND put your feet UP during your break.
Most often the kiddos eat every three hours. Four kids + 12 hour shift + 4 feeds each = 16 feedings in your day. Sixteen patient encounters, each lasting approximately 30 minutes – but often longer. Sixteen assessments to be charted. Don’t forget the meds, the phone calls to/from parents-doctors-practicioners. Updates for OT/PT, the Care Coordinators, the Social Worker. Hang the right IV fluid. Change the tubing. Go to a care conference. Stock the cribs. Wash your hands a hundred times over! Try really hard to have a moment or two to visit with your co-workers…. they are more than just fellow nurses — they are your friends. They’re your suport, your extra hand, your second opinion in deciphering doctor’s orders written in “chicken scratch”. They watch your babies when you go to the bathroom, on a coffee break, to lunch. You return the favors when they step out. You are a TEAM. Thank God, most days the TEAM meshes, supports each other, and work together as the left hand helps out the right.
As the 12 hours wind down, a check of the pedometer shows 6 to 8 miles walked. Why am I not as thin as a broom handle? I don’t get it! Sometimes the 50-something ankles start to swell and the the feet get SO tired. And then…. you see them begin to saunter in. The night shift! A sight for sore eyes –and feet! The cycle starts all over again. I share everything I know with the oncoming nurse. I wish her/him a great night and I really do mean it. I worked 12 hour nights for 5 years (1999-2004) — I KNOW it’s hard. It’s really hard.
One more swipe of the name badge past the time clock – it’s time to go home. On the nights that I drive back home I get a ‘second-wind” the minute I step outside and breathe in the cool fresh air. Soon my car is buzzing up the freeway, CD playing, and the thought of a few days off is glorious! By about 9 pm I pull into the driveway of my most favorite place on earth. Forget Disneyland! I’m HOME!!! I’m exhausted, but I’m home. My job is not easy, but still… after all these years… I love it.
Some days when it’s not too hectic, I’ll find myself sitting in a rocking chair, holding and feeding a baby, and I think… “Girl! They PAY you to do this!!!!!”