I remember washing a bright pink newborn while his parents and my teacher looked on.
I remember crowding into a birth room with about five other students watching a very brave woman who let us in on her moment.
I remember watching a C-section and being glad that the mother was draped and didn’t see quite how hard the doctor was yanking on her flesh.
I remember sitting at a patient’s bedside and singing Amazing Grace while holding their hand.
I remember washing my first patient.
I remember removing staples from a surgery wound.
I remember trying to remember dozens of medication names and all of their rare side effects.
I remember inserting a catheter with shaking hands while my instructor held a flash light and told me to find the “right hole”. I think that insertion is one of the reasons why my nursing career goals didn’t pan out.
I remember some embarrassing moments where in my stress and rush I forgot about providing great patient care.
My favourite moments of nursing school were in the classroom. I loved getting to know my classmates and studying with them, having deep conversations about philosophy of caring and sticky ethical situations. I loved learning about our complex, beautiful bodies. I loved getting a real stethoscope and wearing professional scrubs. I remember feeling alone though when my colleagues expressed and excitement and joy about their practicums while I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.
I remember feeling relieved when my patient needed to rest and couldn’t have the usual student assessments done. I tucked her into bed and took a deep breath.
I saw many gorgeous sunrises on the drive from Courtenay to the Campbell River hospital. I remember looking out at the ocean and praying.
Instead of moments of panic amid growth, I had moments of growth amid panic.
I watched as students around me dropped out or were asked to leave. Our class started at 36 and 25 students graduated. I was stubborn and I didn’t want to give up easily. I was also excellent in the theory. My teachers later told me that they kept in the program longer than normal because I had a very compassionate heart and did so well in class. I guess I was born to be a teacher.
After my second bumpy year of practicum I went to China for a student exchange program.
I flourished there. One of the other Canadian students pulled me aside and said, “are you sure you want to be a nurse? You seem to fit so well in this culture and type of work. It will be interesting to see where God leads you.”
I wasn’t ready to let go yet though. The nursing program had agreed to let me redo my practicum. The dean said that she saw me as an RN and had great potential.
But after China my heart had shifted and my nursing classmates were new. They had bonded as their own group and had their own deep conversations. One day, after messing up a procedure, I said in tears to my instructor, “I can’t do this. I don’t want to be a nurse.” She replied, “I don’t think you should be either. You tried really hard but it’s not for you.”
I remember hugging my parents and crying, “I am not going to be a nurse afterall.”
The cycle of grief started. In the denial stage I went to my instructor and advocated that I could do it and please give me one more chance. They gave me one day and it didn’t work.
A painful meeting ensued where I was asked to leave the nursing program. The death of a dream and an identity. After loss, all of the positive aspects of what I lost become so apparent. I did enjoy caring for my patients and studying medicine but that wasn’t enough.
One of my nursing instructors folowed up and showed her genuine care. One day she phoned me and said that she just happened to see the manager of the local health authority home support in the grocery store. She told the manager about me and a job as a support worker (similar to a care aide position) was available. I had done home support work for a private company as a summer job and enjoyed the slower pace of care.
Even in a moment of loss, I was not left alone without options or hope. I got the job and stayed there for the next five years. The skills that I struggled with in the hospital setting came along in the more gentle pace of home care support work. I don’t think I inserted another catheter but I was able to support many people with other complex health needs.
The job also paid my way through the rest of my eductation which I will tell you about in the next post.
Perhaps the most redeeming moment came when I had finished helping a client with her colostomy and she was clean, comfortable and ready for her day. She smiled at me and said, “you’re a good nurse Melody.”