I’ve been a nurse over 25 years now.
TWENTY-FIVE PLUS YEARS. That is a helluva long time.
I’m an old nurse. I spent most of that time in the OR. Think Hot-Lips Houlihan — without The Sexy — I’m just mean.
That’s what I would tell the med students who came through my OR. Because they were there to learn to be doctors. And the first rule to being a really stellar doctor — listen to the nurses. They know things. All. The. Things.
Sometimes we know things we don’t want to know.
We know the name of the first Human whoever coded and died on us. And the first child who did the same.
We know what all those things you watch on TV for fun — Grey’s Anatomy, ER, House, etc...well..we know what they smell like. Blood has a smell. Trauma has a smell. The OR has a smell. Cancer has a smell. Terminal has a smell. A code has a smell.
We know how to use All. The. Things. The fancy gizmos. That’s all us. From IV pumps to ICU monitors, to defibrillators, to playing PANDORA in the OR — we know how to run it and make it work when it decides to be fickle. We ARE tech support.
We know Death. Intimately. We’ve held Death’s hand. We’ve played tug of war with Her. We have won some and we have lost more. We know how to care for bodies and exactly where the morgue is. We have held the living as they screamed out their grief and pain.
We know how to fight. For our patients. With physicians, with other departments, with our own management if we must. Almost always with insurance providers. We are the conscious of Healthcare — and trust me — no one loves you for that. We are advocates for our patients — to everyone else we are insubordinate bitches.
We know how to do what needs to be done. On the clock, off the clock, however long we have to be there to do it. The patients deserve our best. So we steal it from ourselves and our families to give it to them. Patients have no say about being sick — we know that. Every patient to us is someone’s family. Maybe a member of our family one day — and we’re putting some karma in the bank. Or perhaps we have already had that experience — a sick family member who was well cared for and now — we’re paying it forward.
Either way — nurses see a Human with a need. We always see Their Need before we see ours. No matter who they are.
We know how to juggle. Our lives, our families lives, our other commitments around crazy ass schedules, call, weekends, night-shifts, and holidays. We live our lives by our schedules. We need a day off? We ask for it months ahead of time. Or we work with each other to do the shift-shuffle to help each other out.
We know to cover each other’s backs. Once you’ve been a nurse long enough — you’ve been betrayed and disappointed by management, physicians, the system. You lose trust in all those things. You develop a battlefield mentality and you only depend on your co-workers — other nurses. You look up one day and you realize — ALL your friends are nurses. All. Of. Them.
We know how to play hard. We learn to laugh. We develop unhealthy coping skills. Black Humor, sarcasm, drinking. I have yet to meet a nurse who doesn’t drink. A lot drink wine on a regular — however a few — like me — found the hard stuff in nursing school and never looked back. Patron and I are good friends. Chilled — salt — orange. Get it right. Nurses are also good tippers. We know what hard work feels like.
We know we have an expiration date. We leave nursing because Our Bodies make us. Kidney stones from not hydrating during long shifts or being able to empty our bladders. High blood pressure from the stress, adrenaline, and cortisol surges. Migraines. Back injuries. Plantar Fascitis. Rotator cuff injuries. Knee replacements from arthritis. I could go on. Nurses regularly become patients.
We know all of this. We see all of this. Nothing changes.
Politicians continue to make speeches — and get it all wrong. They fuck with healthcare and never fix it. Our patients can’t afford healthcare. And there aren’t enough nurses for the patients who are in the system.
And when nurses say “The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes” — we are shouted down because we are ‘just nurses’. How could we know anything about the intricacies of the system?
We know this — insurance companies make more money than hospitals. We know they pay congress to help them keep the system broken. We know their CEOS and employees don’t face the same kind of conditions/injuries/hazards nurses do.
We know none of them know what we know.
In closing I just want to say, I’ve learned a lot in 25 years of nursing. One of the things I never learned was how to play cards.