I walked quickly along the crosswalk, the little, illuminated, man-figure on the street sign guiding my way. My hands in my pocket, head slightly down against the smattering of cold rain, and body and mind weary from a long day at work, I made the short walk to the parking lot where I could make the much anticipated journey home. It had been a bad day.
When suddenly, out of nowhere, a car jaunted through the dark, directly at my person. Startled and shocked I froze, much like a deer in headlights, stuck to the pavement I stood awaiting my impending death. I stared in terror at the driver who had turned quickly into my path across the street, and I saw them staring back just as surprised.
I kept walking.
My heart hammered. They almost killed me! I thought.
A moment later, that is the perfect representation of my day.
It almost killed me.
As I got into my truck and drove home I felt certain I would cry. I mean, all day I had wanted to. Many moments throughout the horrendous day I had desired to duck into a supply closet and release a torrent of tears. For surely that would let loose the stress that mounted within me.
On a bad day in Nursing you may want to cry, but you don’t. I think it’s because you’re afraid you won’t be able to stop.
Yes, I had felt certain I would cry on my way home, but once alone and away from my bad day I realized I could not. There was nothing left. I felt so spent, so dry, so expended, that not even a single tear could fall. I wanted to cry. I felt like I needed to cry. Surely it would make me feel better!
But there was nothing left. I had used it all.
A bad day in Nursing can be like that.
You give all you have, you hit a wall. You think to yourself, I can do no more, I can go no further!
But then you do. Why? Because you haven’t a choice. Your patients need you.
As I drove home I thought about my day. I wondered how I could have done things better. I wondered if I had given my patients the best of me that they deserved. My guilt over human limitation weighed on me, and I knew I had to push it off.
“Lord,” I prayed, “help me to let it go, to leave work at work.”
A bad day in Nursing can follow you home. Your family can suffer, your marriage take the brunt. My children already had to deal with a tired mother after twelve hours bedside, a mother who wished to cuddle and hold her children, but often was so exhausted from a day of caring for others, had little left but to sit on the sofa like a stump. I couldn’t take home thoughts of work stress too. They didn’t deserve that.
So I tried to leave the bad day behind me. I imagined it floating from my body and being left in the air behind my vehicle as I sped away, turning up the radio and smiling at the Tracy Chapman song, my bad day like dust that I shook off, exhaust from my tailpipe.
I still thought of it a little. It was as if I had to slowly let go and let it drip away, rather than the dramatic leave behind scenario I imagined.
A bad day in Nursing can’t really be quantified. You can try and say, “well, this wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had.”
The worst day was when that baby died.
Or, it wasn’t as bad as the day I had chest pain. That day I fought for twelve hours straight to keep that man alive. Something about the stress of knowing your actions mean the difference between life and death for someone you don’t even know personally.
A bad day in Nursing isn’t something that can be walked away from. You can’t just go take a break. Sometimes a coworker can help, but usually they are just as busy as you. So you hold your urine. You count on invisible fingers that it’s been 19 hours since you last had something to eat. You try and figure out how you can make the anxious patient calm, the angry family member happy, or the condescending physician a decent human being. You hold one portable phone to your ear while the unit secretary announces another call for you on hold.
Just a minute.
Be right there.
I’ll take care of it.
A bad day in Nursing isn’t something you can check out of mentally. When you’re fed up, finished with the day (emotionally, that is), and certain your nerves can take no more, you still keep going. You can’t decide to do it halfway or to give less of yourself. You can’t go somewhere else in your head or give a mediocre, halfhearted performance of your duties. When life is on the line you always have to be vigilant and present, 100%, no matter if you feel you have nothing left to give.
That. Is. Nursing.
It is giving your all, even when you think you can’t. It’s hitting a wall, and then walking around it. It’s reaching the end of your rope, then miraculously finding there’s more. It’s being empty, yet still pouring out your tank. It’s running, even though you feel as if your legs have been cut off. It’s reaching the end of yourself, and then starting again. Sometimes it’s a time clock perseverance, where you ache for the end of your shift, because only then will it be over. The bad day, that is.
After a bad day I always question myself for a moment.
Did I do the best I could do?
How could I have done better?
And of course…
Can I keep doing this?
This morning I saw a friend on Facebook. It was someone the field of Nursing had brought me. It was someone who had happened upon my hospital bed (if you believe things just happen), and it was someone whose life had changed. They had told me it changed because of the things I had said. This person had come to my ICU bed as an overdose, another one in a string of so many before. Broken in so many ways. Some people saw a pointless case, repeat offender, hopeless addict. I saw a hurting heart in need of love. For some reason my kind words, encouragement, and love showed this person that they were capable of change and worthy of a better life. Just an ordinary day at work, nothing spectacular, yet a life had been saved and changed. This friend was still clean six years later. An event that almost ended in death had instead turned into a new life. And I had something to do with that.
That thought (the one that what I did mattered) brought me peace and joy. I was reminded that while there will be bad days, there are also good days, and what I do has an impact. I am where I need to be, with purpose, and I can meet each day with the expectation of doing something wonderful. Sure, some days will be hard ones, ones where I feel like I barely got by, or that I did horribly, but then they won’t be.
Bad days in Nursing are like nothing else you know, but the good days can have a positive impact you never imagined possible.