When I drop the ball

The idea of failure, I think, is pretty well universally feared. For a nurse, failure can have some truly devastating implications.  A nurse’s failures can cause pain to others. It can cause death. I believe it took most of the first year to rise above the complete paralyzing grip that the fear of failure had on me as a brand new nurse. It never went completely away, and I pray it doesn’t.
I remember this ritual I had, sitting in my vehicle in front of the small hospital where I worked. I’d pull up around dawn every morning before my shift, kill the engine, and pause. I’d hone in on the song the birds were chiming in the trees, I’d breathe in the smell of bacon as it wafted from the lower level kitchen. I envied whoever was down there. If they should fail their job today, we get burnt bacon. If I should fail, it could end in manslaughter. I really had to just give it to the Big Man, because I knew that I failed daily, and still do. I pray he guides my hands and feet, I pray that He graces me with wisdom and good judgement. I pray for His forgiveness and for the forgiveness of my patients and their loved ones when I fall short. And I have fallen short often. I’ve botched dressing changes and torn skin. I’ve forgotten pain medication and given wrong medication. I’ve over medicated. I’ve missed more IV sticks than I’ve gotten. I’ve let arms swell to twice their size before finding that the IV had infiltrated. I’ve neglected to turn patients and to pull down their stockings, resulting in skin breakdown. I’ve spoken when I shouldn’t and I’ve stayed silent when I should have blown the whistle. I have been the nurse you’ve cursed for leaving your Grandmother’s arms bruised and bleeding. I very nearly once hung the wrong antibiotic on a patient that was severely allergic to that antibiotic. These are the faces that haunt you when the day is done and your head hits the pillow. These failures are hard to live with, but in each there is a lesson. Don’t make the same mistake twice and ask forgiveness when you get the chance.  Forgive each other, and most importantly,  try to forgive yourself. You do good work. Give it to God. He will see you through.
It is also important not to hide your mistakes.  It takes courage to admit them and diligence to correct them. Several times, I’ve recieved the brunt of a particular surgeon’s “wrath” over various mistakes I made. The last time, he gained a great deal of respect from me when he said “You know, I’ve made my share of mistakes, severed ureters, caused bleeds, among other things, but is imperative that we pay attention. We are dealing with people’s lives.” Suddenly, I no longer a surgeon with a “God complex,” but a man who was there” as we all are, striving for excellent patient care. Through the decades he has been practicing medicine, learning from his mistakes. He is proud, but not too proud to be accountable for his errors. I think that is an excellent example for anyone to follow. Seek opportunity for growth and never let fear of failure cripple you.

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