I met Annie at the Coffeebar. The clang of dishes, the buzz of conversations, and mellow music filled the background as her petite frame climbed into the bar stool next to mine. Her friendly smile and calm eyes greeted me as I tried to figure out how to start the recording on my iphone. Once I figured the iphone out, we were in business to dive into her life as an ER nurse.
Annie knew what she wanted to do early and became a nurse at twenty-two years old. She chose nursing because she always wanted to go into a career that helped people. “I wanted to go into a field that doesn’t create new things, I wanted to fix things that we already have. I wanted to help people.” She considered physical therapy, but ultimately chose nursing because she wanted as much one on one connection with patients as possible.
When I asked Annie what it’s like to be a nurse, the first words out of her mouth were, “Hard…exhausting…” quickly followed by, “…but rewarding.”
“It’s kinda all over the board. It can be super frustrating in the same night that you do something really great for somebody.”
When I asked her what the most challenging part of nursing was, she said, “Physical demands are definitely up there. Especially working nights, in the ER. We do CPR on patients three times my size.”
But what is even more challenging than the physical demands is learning to deal with the conflict that comes with being in such stressful and demanding situations every day. “I was a very easygoing, wanting-to-get-along-with-everyone kind of person. And in nursing, there’s a lot of conflict–which I wasn’t expecting. You have conflict with your patients who are frustrated. You have conflict with your co-workers because you are in stressful situations together. So I’ve learned I’ve had to become a lot more assertive. And I definitely know I’ll continue to become much more assertive. I think that was the biggest thing.”
Relationships also change. “You go through so much and people don’t understand what we do. You can’t meet with your friends for coffee and talk about how you did CPR on this patient and you couldn’t get the tube. They freak out. They can’t talk about that kind of stuff. So your friendships kind of change, which I didn’t expect. But I love the friends I’ve made as nurses, even if they are twice my age. And that’s fine to me because I get along with them and we have so much in common, which is really cool.”
When I asked Annie if she could change anything in nursing what it would be, her answer was the relationship between doctors and nurses. “As a new night nurse, when you call a doctor at night, they don’t know who you are. They don’t trust you. It’s frustrating when you have a sick patient and you are nervous to call the doctor because you don’t know how they will respond to you.”
“It’s different in the ER. I instantly had respect from the ER doctors. It’s weird–I don’t know what the culture difference is. I remember my first week, an ER doctor came out and I was doing my initial assessment on this patient and he asked me, ‘So what do you think?’ and I was blown away that he thought to ask my opinion. But that’s how the ER docs work. They really work with you. It’s problem solving down there. And maybe that’s the difference why they work with us a lot more.”
One of her most memorable moments as a nurse was a night when she acquired a patient from another nurse who was leaving for the night. “I was told the patient was super anxious and trying not to go home. I was told not to let her manipulate me. You know, I hate getting report sometimes because you get this false image of the patient, and then you go in with a bias. So anyways, I went in to see the patient and sure enough, her chest was red and she was hyperventilating. I’ve had a friend with anxiety, so I have a little bit of history with it, and people don’t really get it. It just takes over. It’s a physiological response that you can’t control. So I sat down on the bed, right next to her. And I asked her, ‘What are you anxious about? Tell me what you are nervous about.’ Ten minutes later I get to the bottom of it: she didn’t want to go home with a hospital bed and all the medical equipment. She was nervous about taking care of herself alone, at home.”
“We started talking more and she told me she used to be a professional singer and actress. So I asked her, ‘When you had a performance, how did you overcome big challenges?’ and she said, ‘Well, I would practice. I would practice in front of the mirror, in my car, all the time. I practiced.’ I told her it was the same thing when she went home, that we would practice walking. Getting out of the bed. That she could do it. That we would do it together.”
“So at 2 in the morning, I got her up. She walked to the edge of her bed and back–she did just fine–and when she sat back down on the bed she burst into tears. She said, ‘I can do this.’ I said, ‘Yes, yes you can!’ I think it made all the difference in the world to have someone believe in her and care. Nurses can be caring, but there is a different level of caring sometimes. She got discharged the next morning and that was my first moment where I was like, I really helped somebody. And I knew that this is where I was supposed to be.”
Knowing how demanding constantly caring for others can be I asked her what she likes to do to recharge. “I exercise. And sleep is huge. You can go to work, go home and sleep and dream about work all night and feel like you never left. I try to decompress, at least for an hour. Play with my dog, disconnect. Otherwise I dream of alarms and patients.”
Even with all of its challenges, Annie would still definitely recommend nursing. “It depends on the person. Most of the people I’ve pushed into nursing really want to care for people. It’s not just for the money. There’s always job security–people are always going to be sick. But determination is huge. It takes a lot of work. So I wouldn’t push someone who doesn’t like taking tests, or science, or being in the middle of blood and vomit.”
I mentioned that for me, the thought of being in a position to save–or hurt someone –is terrifying. She nods. “It’s definitely a scary thought, but at some point you just let go because you have so much support and so much help. You know you are not alone.”
Nursing has influenced and altered her perspective in other ways as well. “It makes you appreciate life. You say you do, you know, but being in the ER you see how life is completely taken from people. You go home at night and touch your significant other and feel their heartbeat and think, “I’m so thankful for this.”
How about you? Are you a nurse who can relate? Let me know about it by commenting below!