These were the words I spoke to my husband, and it surprised even me that I had spoken them out loud. Yet there they sat, out in the open, uttered in angst, and unable to be taken back. It was true, though, and even as that saddened me, admitting my frustration was freeing.
In all honesty, at that moment, I wished I could just stay at home. With young children, that’s where I wanted to be at the moment. I envied those women who could lament over daycare being too expensive to justify working out of the home. I held a job that brought a substantial enough income that my paycheck outweighed what I might have to pay a sitter, and while that didn’t sound like a problem to most, as a burned out nurse I was just looking for any old excuse to be able to step away from the bedside. As it stood, I had built a life (and the bills it included) around my salary as a nurse. I depended on my payday to make ends meet.
I was stuck in the life I had created. I was working twelve hour shifts at the bedside because the schedule I could create worked best for my family at the time, but even that wasn’t enough to make it worthwhile for me. I was exhausted with homeschooling and staying up with a baby. Dragging myself to work in between my home responsibilities was just too much. I dreamed of being a bartender again, or even working in a PVC pipe factory like I had at the age of 22. Anything sounded better than Nursing. I regretted that I had ever left vet med school to pursue a career caring for humans.
This was where my mind was five or six years ago, and I think if we’re being honest, we’ve probably all been in this place of our career at one time or another. It’s that barren place where the good doesn’t seem to outweigh the bad much anymore. Nursing is often a thankless vocation, and one day you look up and can’t remember the last time it seemed rewarding more than exhausting. After all, the hours were long, the patients were often overly demanding, the families unrealistic in their expectations. The charting had quadrupled, the staff had been cut in half, and the responsibilities multiplied. And the fact that by responsibilities we were talking life and death, that didn’t help matters. Even if you were exhausted, you couldn’t allow that to affect your performance. Otherwise fatal consequences could ensue. That would wear thin even the most sturdy individual.
Nursing was hard, no matter how you looked at it, yet you still loved it. Deep down, in that place where the light that loved Nursing still burned, you enjoyed the field. It just seemed burnout could cause the flame to flicker. It brought frustration, often, but occasionally even regret. Why did I ever become a nurse?!
Last week I walked into the room of a chronically ill elderly woman. I knew in my heart she wasn’t going to get better, and I think she did too. I had taken care of her a handful of times, including her first day admitted, so we held a special bond. In her prior moments of fear I had offered comfort. She liked it when I sang or hummed softly while attending to her needs. She said it calmed her nerves. To see her genuine smile when I walked in the room was nice, and seeing her daughter’s joyful reaction to my presence added to the feeling. Once outside of the room, the eldest daughter and I, we walked in silence to the ice machine, acknowledging without words the fact that mom was looking worse. We came across her physician in the hall, and together we all advocated for her care. I beamed with a contented feeling of accomplishment for getting my patient what she needed. It felt good to do good, if that makes sense.
Later, when I returned to my familiar patient’s room she commented, “you know what I’ve noticed? It always seems like God puts people exactly where they need to be exactly when they need to be there.”
It was an “aha” moment for me. She wasn’t just talking about the doctor, but also me. I was right where I needed to be, and not just on that particular day with that particular patient. I was right where I needed to be caring for people in their most vulnerable and difficult times. I was using my gifting to help others, and with that came a sense of purpose and feeling of pride that far outweighed any passing emotion of regret I had felt in the past. Over the past year or so my heart had changed. It had turned back to Nursing. The passion and calling that led me to the field had returned, my joy for the job had increased, and my flame had been rekindled.
Nursing is a challenging job, but more so than that it is a responsibility for the lives of others that can easily leave you exhausted and disillusioned because of the demands that weigh heavy on your heart and mind. Without the perspective and awareness of the valued part you play in changing and improving lives, you can easily come to a place of burnout, and possibly regret. At this point I’m grateful that my candle no longer flickers, but instead burns bright. That’s not to say I don’t get tired, frustrated, and stretched far too thin, but I am able to realize with pride that I have been placed exactly where I need to be, at exactly the right time.