Why I Became a Nurse
A couple of days ago, one of my patients asked me that dreaded question… “So why did you decide to become a nurse?”
I dreaded that question because I felt that so many of my classmates in nursing school had such meaningful and profound answers to that question. I could never answer that question in a few short, well-spoken, and concise sentences. It was more complicated than that for me.
As I stood in the patient’s room, back leaned against the sink, I wondered if I should share with her the true story, or the sugar-coated one with a cherry on top. As a nurse, it becomes easy to sugar coat your stories with patients. When you see someone that is in so much pain and suffering, sometimes you don’t want to tell them the truth. You don’t want to tell them the poor prognosis of their disease, or that they’re not getting better yet, or that their chest x-ray showed pneumonia or that their blood cultures came back positive for MRSA. And you never want to share with them YOUR sad stories. You want to cheer on their little victories and tell them that they’re progressing – that they’re getting better again.
But don’t we owe our patients the truth? As nurses, we are put in a very special position. We get to know these complete strangers for who they are, not just their disease process. We listen to the life stories they share, good AND bad. We get to know them and start to build trusting relationships.So when this particular patient asked me that question, I chose to share with her the truth: the good AND the bad.
I came back home from my freshman year of college to complete chaos. My parents were stressed out, rarely home, and my little brother was in and out of multiple emergency rooms and rehab centers. It was a wake up call. Although my university was only about 30-40 minutes away from home, I lived on campus, and was protected from my little brother’s downward spiral with drugs, alcohol, and mental illness. It was hard to witness. I remember one day, visiting him in the psych ward at HCPC, and I broke down in tears with my brother and my mother. It was so hard to see him locked up in what I used to picture as an insane asylum. On my 19th birthday, I remember making my own birthday cake (red velvet with cheesecake frosting) and waiting until around 9PM at night for my parents to come home from the emergency room because my brother had overdosed again. Combine that with getting dumped by my first serious boyfriend, and you have the perfect recipe for a meltdown. I didn’t practice piano at all that summer (my major at the time). When I came back to school in the fall of 2012, I was a complete mess.
Sometimes you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been to stand back up taller than you ever were.
My rock bottom wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t short and I fell back down over and over. Once I started to stand back up on my two feet again, I was knocked back down further than I had ever been with the news that my brother had committed suicide. My life started to spiral too. Drugs, alcohol, parties, sex, and slipping grades. My GPA was the lowest it had ever been, and I got fired from my part time job. I didn’t have a purpose, and I was lonely. Somehow I still made it to weekly bible studies for over a year, but I felt like an imposter and a liar.
My brother passing away was a pivotal moment for me. As hard as it was, I also felt a sense of peace for my family. I remember a specific phone conversation I had with my mom. She had told me, “If you’re not happy with what you’re doing, then do something different!” It was so simple in theory, yet so difficult for me. It’s hard to completely uproot your foundation for something so different and uncertain. But that is what I did.
I decided to go to nursing school.
Why? For many reasons. Subconsciously, I think I wanted to help other people because I couldn’t help my brother. Maybe it would give me a sense of purpose… I also wanted stability, which nursing would most certainly provide. I craved relationships and interaction. Hiding away in a practice room for many hours a day was difficult for me. And finally, I wanted a challenge that would get me out of bed every day. I wanted to be held accountable for these lives that were in my hands.
And becoming a nurse did just that.
It truly makes me happy to see patients get better. That in itself is enough for me. It’s silly how excited I get when a patient, who just had a huge heart surgery, is walking around the unit with the help of a physical therapist. Or seeing chest tubes come out, and patients coming back from the ICU or getting discharged back home. Even if patients need extra attention, or they snap at me because they are in so much pain, I appreciate the raw emotion and interaction. Because that’s how life is supposed to be.
We are all dependent on each other, and having someone depend on me in their time of greatest need is nothing short of an honor. I strive to do everything I can to benefit my patients in those 12 short hours.
And hopefully it will make a small difference.
THAT is why I became a nurse.