We were told early on that our journey would not be one that most wouldn’t understand. Stepping into healthcare is stepping through a closed door into a world of both beauty and torment that most aren’t privy to.
It was my day to work in the shower room. I was greeted by middle aged woman with a bubbly disposition. She was a veteran CNA and obviously had wonderful report with her residents. This was also a second if not a third job she worked to support her houshold.
She showed me around the room as it began to fill with steam. She revealed me a tub of body wash, deodorant, and lotions. She explained that she liked to give them a little something special when she could. She winked and I realized she had purchased these things with her own money.
It wasn’t long until the stalls started filling up. I was directed to one and we worked assembly line style. Once you got to me you were already disrobed and ready for washing. The room got hotter and wetter by the minute as I got more somber. There were those with diseases of the mind which had stripped them of their logic and sometimes even their speech. As I washed, I couldn’t escape the notion that their healthy and unaffected self was just under the surface, scratching and begging to be acknowledged, to be valued, and to be loved. There were also those whose ailments were physical. They would often apologize for the burden they believed themselves to be or say nothing at all. they’d just stare at me, eyes begging for any shred of dignity I could offer. Did they know I was nobody? Little more than a stranger off the street who was given some cloths to wash with, I had no credentials and no experience. I felt I was doing these men and women such a disservice with my clumsy hands and terrified expression. I don’t even think I was able to conversate with them as they probably truly needed. I was far too stricken.
That day I left in soggy shoes that I barely noticed. It was my first peek into a world that most are shielded from. I was quite brokenhearted, yes, but it was more pride I felt. Not pride for my performance that day, far from it, but pride in the profession that I had chosen that is filled with people who really want to make a world of difference even in the smallest ways.
I daresay the cleanest, most heavily staffed and compliant nursing homes in existence aren’t able to completely conceal the unsavory, yet natural goings on of the human body.
We were standing attention at twilight in front of our first clinical site receiving our assignments. Half on bath duty and half on vitals. We were to switch the next day. Our whites were ironed and our hair neatly pinned back per dresscode. Stethescope: check. Clipboard: check. Unwavering confidence: uh… hardly.
It has been said that if one knew what they were getting into before hand, they might opt out of marriage. The same may be said of entering nursing school. The majority of us had never laid hands on a human stranger for the purpose of delivering care. I think that we all had a feeling, however that we were about to crawl through the trenches that day.
I was partnered with, of course, one of the same girls I was so intimidated by in the classroom. I’m ashamed to say, it felt a little good to see the tiny glint of defeat in her eye as we were tossed what looked like a mile long list of names. I swear it was at least two columns and no margins. Supposedly it was one hall’s worth of residents’ names and we had until noon to collect and document blood pressures, heart rate, respiration rate, and oxygen saturation on each of them. Luckily we had prepared by taking each other’s vital signs for an hour in the lab the day prior, so we were basically experts with unparalleled efficiency when it came to vitals. Not. Additionally, we didn’t know these names and faces from Adam. Also, who’d a thunk? Nursing home residents DO NOT just hang out in their assigned beds all day waiting to get their vital signs taken! They are eating, playing bingo, smoking Virginia Slims, and gossiping in the dang flower garden! We were running all through the place trying to track these folks down with little to nothing to go by.
A couple of hours in, my partner and I were pretty proud of the dent we had made in our list. We actually got a system down pretty quickly and were feeling like Batman and Robin. Then we are handed another full sheet of names. Everyone except the two of us had been pulled to the showers or bed baths and the pair of us were to finish out basically the entire facility with the vital signs. It was really a blur. I know there was some wailing, some wondering, and some wollering. At our noon rendezvous my peers were stained, sweated out, winded and drenched up to the knee. We were all painted with the stuff you might expect from that sort of work. My partner and I turned in the two crumpled and smeared sheets with vitals scribbled beside three quarters of the names.
We were later told it may be a good idea not to work with each other because we were an inefficient team and your company could make or break your performance in this program.
Three years later she was the backbone of the Emergency Department in the facility where I worked med/surg. We always had each other’s back and worked together like cogs in a clock. We have since shared many laughs about that day in the nursing home. I think we learned more than anticipated and I value every moment of it.
Two and a half years after I saw the lady in the lavender scrubs, I became an official student nurse. My second year of applying won me admittance to the most abusive course of study I could imagine. A small branch of the university, the nursing department is in a lovely, but terrifyingly intimidating building. Soon after my arrival, as our instructors began to introduce the world we had stepped into, my attention drifted, as it often does, to my peers. The bulk of them were females very near my age. Most would say that I fit the typical mold of a new nursing student, as there are usually very few males or non-traditionals. I picked up very quickly that I was, however, going to be and outlier when I saw dozens of planners and tabbed notebooks fly out of designer bags every time a professor opened their mouth. My idea of being prepared for class was a pen behind my ear and a 44 oz Diet Dr Pepper in hand. These girls were on their game. Obviously “A” students with a competitive drive and likely some kind of 5-year plan, I was feeling more out of place by the minute. “What in the world am I doing here?” I thought. As the instructors continued to outline the intense two years that laid ahead for those of us who “make it that far” I began to worry about how I would be able to continue to have income. I had always kept an evening job while being in school. “How is this going to work out?” “Who am I?” “How many people are going to die because I have no business in this field?” “I’m going to need more Dr Pepper.”
Truth be told, I’ve never divulged the details of the day I decided to pursue a nursing career to a single soul. Not a colleague, not my mother, not even my husband and father of my child have ever heard this story. I always have, and still do adamantly believe that those who are rightfully in nursing are answering a divine calling. Perhaps it is not always immediately recognized as such.
It must have been December. I was wrapping up my first semester at a four year school for which I had miraculously obtained enough scholarship money to pay tuition. I was groggily trudging across campus to my 8 o’clock, which I’m sure was a basic class chosen by some “advisor” who no doubt couldn’t remember the face of the country girl with no declared major and no direction. It was cold and I would have liked nothing more than to stay in my cocoon on the top bunk in the tiny dormroom. I’m sure I looked like a walking pile of dirty laundry crunching my way across the frozen lawn, contemplating nothing but my desire to return to bed. Eventually, I must have gotten tired of staring at my feet (which isn’t a very safe walking habit) so I looked forward. This moment is one burned into my memory. She was a fair bit ahead of me, headed in the opposite direction. She had smooth, caramel skin and her black hair was pulled back neatly. She had a stethoscope draped around her neck and wore lovely lavender scrubs. The sun casted the warmest orange glow behind her as it began its work of burning off the mist and frost. The lady didn’t appear much older than my eighteen year old self, but there was something different about her face, a wisdom, it seemed. I don’t know where she was headed, but she definitely knew, she looked so determined. She never so much as glanced my way.
By the next day, I was no longer an “undeclared major.” I had taken the first step on a journey that would ultimately define me in many ways. Yes, essentially I saw a lady and thought “She’s got it together, I think I’ll go for that.” I don’t know why such a mundane passing of strangers has such an otherworldly effect on my existence. Furthermore, I don’t know why someone in lavender scrubs was doing on campus at 0730. Student nurses wear burgundy and white. Perhaps she had worked a night shift and was furthering her education by day… although her scrubs were rather neat and fresh. Perhaps she worked at the Student Health Clinic, although I’ve never seen them wear scrubs. You can speculate for yourself who or what she was and what her business was that day, I have my own theories.