We Are Nurses. This Is What We Signed Up For
COVID-19 is bringing out the best in us.
When you became a nurse, you probably wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, to care for others, to serve and help your fellow humans, to be with them in the best and worst times of their lives.
A career in nursing could give you the flexibility to change specialties, the mobility to work wherever you wanted and the ability to advance your career. From bedside nursing, to school nursing, OR nursing, ambulatory care, research, education and more, your possibilities were endless.
You knew you would be working evenings, nights, weekends and holidays because illness, pain and suffering do not happen M-F from 9-5. You signed up for the hours and the shifts.
You knew that some days you would be so busy you wouldn’t get a break or a lunch. Your patients’ needs came first. You signed up to put their needs ahead of yours.
You knew you would see miracles: healthy babies born, first steps taken after an injury, someone not expected to make it through the night who makes a full recovery. You signed up to play a part in those miracles.
You would have to keep learning. New treatments and procedures would come out every year. New medications and diseases would be discovered. Nothing in healthcare stays the same. You signed up to be a lifelong learner.
You were quite aware of the impact you would have on people. Simple things became important – like a gentle touch and a kind word, going the extra mile for a family member, remembering the red popsicles taste the best. You signed up to treat all your patients as if they were your favorite.
You knew that some patients would be hard to care for. You were trained to handle being yelled at, hit, cussed out, or lied to. You signed up to treat all patients, without regard to how they treated you.
You knew some patients and families would never forget you. Because of how your job intersected with their most painful parts of their lives, you became a part of their life story. You signed up to share some of yourself with them.
You knew you would have an extreme impact on the nurses that followed in your footsteps. How you interacted with students and new staff could make a profound difference in their careers. You signed up to help future generations become their best selves.
You would cry. Some patients would break your heart, maybe because they died, maybe because of how they died or maybe because they didn’t die but are just a shell of the person they were yesterday. You signed up for the hard times too.
You would encounter the sickest of the sick patients. You would care for the coding and critically ill patients until the code team, rapid response team or transport team could get there to help you. You signed up to be a nurse at all times, not just when it was easy, and when the help was nearby.
You were aware that you could become ill from your job. A needlestick could turn into HIV. The patient with the cough might have just shared their TB with you. MRSA, vancomycin-resistant bacteria and more covered your work clothes every day. You knew the risks and still, you signed up to be a nurse.
Then you learn about an illness like COVID-19 and you wonder … Did I sign up for this?
Because you are one of the nurses who go to battle and work on the front lines, caring directly for patients, leaving the safety of your home and family to do your job. You don and doff your very limited PPE, wash your hands for the millionth time this hour, and just pray.
You pray that you aren’t exposed, so you don’t bring anything home to your family.
You pray that you stay healthy so you can continue to work and care for your patients.
You pray that there are fewer patients today because they are getting better and not because they have died.
You pray that there is a vaccine.
You pray that people will stay home and stop the spread of this disease.
And you pray that your shift will just end and that another nurse will be there to care for your patients.
Kimberly A. Hume, MSN, RN, is in charge of patient education for Lexicomp at Clinical Effectiveness, Wolters Kluwer, Health, based in St. Louis. She was formerly a staff nurse in orthopedics and neonatal ICU. Her daughter, Jessica Hume, is a nurse in a cardiac ICU, now turned into a COVID-19 unit, at Mercy Hospital South in suburban St. Louis, Missouri.
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