First love is easy, isn’t it? With stars in your eyes and a naive nature, you swing headfirst and heart-strong into the relationship. You have dreams for the future, the butterflies for excitement to spur you forward, and even a bit of healthy hesitancy to keep you honest. But somewhere between that first date (or shift in the case of nursing) and eventual broken expectations, you end up feeling betrayed. It’s nothing like you hoped it could be. You end up disappointed, likely broken-hearted, and sadly, if your experience was especially harsh, guarded and skeptical for any silver lining that might exist up ahead. Sound familiar?
A profession you can truly love isn’t that different from a romantic relationship. It’s something that gives your life a new purpose, a reason to hope, excitement, and the ability to get better at it as you go along. It’s the chance to think of someone other than yourself, but like any relationship, the one with your career can become strained. I’ve been in the medical field for 20 years now, and I think I’ve experienced every stage of the process. I mean, if Nursing was Dante’s Inferno, I probably transversed through every circle. Y’all, I fell out of love with it, and it took purposeful determination to make my way back into my partner’s good graces. At one point, I think I hated it. Just being brutally honest here.
That first year was something, am I right? Fear, panic, but somehow an exciting adrenaline rush, a pride that I’ve discovered you can’t let slip away. I was proud to be a nurse. I was proud of my vocation, and I was proud of the hard work it took to get me there. I was proud of that R, and of that N, and for a while no one could take that from me. But then came the bad apples. Damn, if they don’t ruin the barrel.
Somewhere between holding an elderly woman’s hand and double charting for the billionth time, my heart started to harden. Do you know the difference between a good nurse and a great nurse? I was always a good nurse. I took care of my patients, and I got the job done. I was honest (for the most part), and I did no harm (that I’m aware of). I smiled at my patients’ faces, and I even meant about 80% of what I said. This will sound so harsh to the layman, but my fellow nurses will understand. It’s not easy giving all of yourself with little to nothing in return. I mean, yeah, you get the paycheck, but that even seems paltry in the face of preventing death or giving up Christmas with your family. So, it becomes a job. A thing you do, day in and day out. I can even recall telling my husband I felt stuck. Lord, help me, I did. I could think of no other “job” where I could work 24 hours, yet get paid for forty hours, while maintaining the best benefits offered in our little city.
I ask again, do you know the difference between a good nurse and a great nurse? A good nurse gets the job done, but a great nurse loves the job they get to do. I guess I had to move from one to get to the other.
All I know is, I entered the field like a young, star-crossed lover, but about a decade into it, I wanted to breakup. I had become disillusioned, and it wasn’t what I thought it could be. Maybe I entered the career thinking I could make so many differences, but I wasn’t open to what could change in me. I became a woman focused on the obstacles before me, and blinded to any blessings scattered throughout. I wasn’t heartless, mind you; I still felt contentment when a patient told me how much my care had meant to them. But those Hallmark moments couldn’t outweigh the injustices I felt. I focused on every single hardship in my field, and I took personally each offense. I allowed the Negative Nancy’s to feed the fire of bitterness inside me, and I assumed every demanding patient canceled out the kind ones. There’s certainly that need for self-care, but I think I came to a place where it was almost always about me.
“Why is this so hard,” I asked, never contemplating for very long how it must be on the other side of the bed.
“What do they expect of me,” I would question angrily, without asking myself what I might give.
I saw my field only as a difficult endeavor, and seldom as a privilege. I carried the weight of a thousand martyrs, except I had forgotten the cause for which I gave myself. I was a good nurse, who did my job, but not a great nurse who loved the opportunity to do it. And I suppose that’s many of us. It’s not that we don’t enjoy what we do; it’s just that sometimes we hate it just as much. That sounds so terrible, when I type it out like that, but if you’ve never held a position where you don’t cry while cleaning the dead body of someone you just hugged that morning, then you may not understand. If you haven’t been punched, kicked, or called the worst of all swear words by someone you’re trying to help, then you won’t get it. If you haven’t cringed over calling someone in a position above you, knowing they will scream at you merely for doing your job, then this may seem like harsh words. If you haven’t felt the anxiety of trying to do the work of two people, while not making a mistake that could cost someone else’s life and your career, then you just won’t have a clue. It’s not easy to carry the weight of so much on tired shoulders, and for many who do, they end up angry and perhaps even resentful for a profession they once loved so much.
Back to the relationship bit, it’s as if the marriage is falling apart, and you don’t want a divorce, but you can’t look at his socks balled up on the floor another day or you might snap. I guess sometimes, when you realize you don’t love them like you used to, you have to take it back to the beginning. You have to remember the first time you saw them, that first date, or first, tender kiss. The spark is still there. You just gotta know how to stoke it.
I recall sitting in a computer class taking a critical care course, and I was digging it. Us Critical Care folks, we love all that medical stuff! Sitting there, I knew I loved the knowledge. I loved the dynamics. I loved the process. I loved the people. I loved making a difference in people’s lives. I loved nursing. I did. It was time to act like it.
Back when my husband and I were just dating, I remember we had been off again, on again, at one point. I had found out some stuff, and each of us had been idiots. We loved each other, we knew that, but we were kinda just coasting along, existing as a couple. Like, maybe involved, but not committed entirely to the future of it. Well, anyway, I remember standing in the card aisle on Valentine’s and I had found the perfect, mushy card for him, when suddenly God smacked me upside the head.
It was like, God said, “Brie, if you’re going to give that to him, you need to mean it.”
And I was like, dang, you’re right. I love him. I really do. We can work through this.
And we did. Every day since our relationship got better, and even now, each day is better than the last. I guess, I had to come to a place in my nursing career that was similar. I loved it, but I had to start acting like it. I had to do more than just show up. I had to get invested. I couldn’t focus on my husband’s faults, any more than I could deny my own. And I couldn’t selfishly fixate on what nursing took out of me. I had to start giving of myself more. I had to see through clear eyes. If you focus on a stain, that’s all you see. What you should look at is the fact that the fabric is still good. It can be washed. Nursing was still good. I think my vision of it had just become tainted.
My career truly began to change when I focused on the opportunity to provide care, the privilege of meeting people at their darkest hour, and leading them back into the light. I threw off sympathy and instead embraced empathy. I put myself in my patient’s shoes. Heck, even the administrators’ shoes. I saw my occupation as the ministry it was, my chance to care for the hurting, and to help those in need. I didn’t face the relationship with what I could gain, but what I could give. I didn’t focus on what wrong was being done to me, but rather what good I could sow into it. Y’all, I fell in love all over again, and it wasn’t because the object of my affection was perfect, but because it gave me purpose, passion, and a sense of fulfillment. Was it still hard, at times? Yes! But beyond that it was good. In fact, it was great. And then I realized, I was great too.