It strikes me that sometimes my imagination is too small.
When I started on this path, I did not begin to have anything beyond the vaguest outlines of how the choice to become a nurse would change me. Yes, yes, I knew that it would do so, and I even had intellectualized that knowledge into something I could hold up to my mind’s eye and examine with curiosity and wonder.
What a silly little idea that was.
I had not guessed that the change would be other than superficial. Especially not at this point. I figure’d it would be redecorating a home—maybe putting in new hardwood floors in the kitchen, new colors on the wall, some new furniture. I hadn’t realized that this process I’ve begun (and am only a couple of months in so far!) is foundation work. We’re hoisting the edifice on jacks and pouring concrete, knocking down walls to open up room, and checking the load-bearing integrity throughout. New bay windows are in the works, and next year we’re putting in gardens and a mud room, and you should see what we’re doing to the upstairs—
And that home? I mean my Self. That thing that I’ll call soul for lack of a better word (and because it’s true). I had not imagined the utterly necessary magnification of the soul required to be a good nurse.
The way we’re being taught emphasizes thinking like a nurse. This involves a certain logical process that absolutely requires that you think holistically about a person and their systems (both the physiological ones that comprise them and the social ones in which they live), analyze the specific issue(s) in front of you at present, and respond appropriately. It means dealing with the person, that all of them is your patient.
That’s the theory side of things, what we’re covering in my fundamentals class.
Then there’s the practicum: our clinical assignments. My program starts us off in clinicals right from the first term. By week three, we’re seeing patients. Deep end doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Things start coming together—simple things like how the pieces of a nursing plan work, how to address patients, how to take accurate vital signs. You stop being quite so terrified as you learn what you need to be competent. Suddenly, you’re thinking like a nurse—in a simple, newbie, Bonjour, je m’appelle Jacques. Comment allez-vous?-god-my-accent-is-horrible-why-do-you-sa
And that’s frigging magic. Because you can feel it in your head, as the lessons are sinking in and the experiences start to remodel the content of your character. Your self grows because of the moments you have with your patients: the human connections that we all have are suddenly instrumentalized because more than anything, your self as the nurse—intellect, learning, empathy—is the most important tool you have. You start feeling as a nurse.
It’s so damn humbling.
I had the realization a couple of weeks ago (and it’s actually a continual, evolving realization that started even before that) that if I’m going to be a good nurse—and I want to be!—I’m going to have to be a better person. Not in a vague woo-woo sort of way, either, but in a concrete, observable way. In order to help my patients, I’ve got to be able to connect with them and do it well and respectfully.
It’s daunting as fuck.
The thought comes to me, often, that this is a whole lot of work for a day job. Because this is meant to be that thing that provides the security for me to do my real work of writing. And it’s so damn true. This is a whole lot of work. Part of me wants to run away and join the office because even though I know it’s stultifying, it’s something I know I can do and it’s not so hard, and damn it, it doesn’t require me becoming a better person—and how much money did I give up for this shit, anyway?—and I’d still be okay for a while longer if I did that, wouldn’t I?, I mean it’s not like it hurts my soul and makes it harder for me to write… oh, wait.
Yeah. Because I realized, a long while back, that even my day job has to be meaningful in its own right, if I’m going to be whole enough to do my real work.
And the new thing: that in so many ways, what I seek to accomplish broadcast with my writing—the connection, the communication of agency, the pursuit of beauty and justice, the sheer joy of living in all its many-colored muck-stained splendor—I also can accomplish in specific with my nursing practice.
I love that it’s called a practice, too. It is such an apt word for this work. With both my art and my nursing, I’m still seeking the same end, and it requires that I’m active in my practice. Much like with a religious, be they a ministering cleric or a cloistered contemplative, there is a constant aim, a goal to which one is devoted, that involves a way of being that requires focus.
Nursing—and I’m a student nurse now, and that’s a real place on the nursing path—is the first work I’ve had besides being a writer, an artist, that changes who I am in a deep, intrinsic way. While I didn’t get really serious about being an artist, a writer, until a few years ago, I’ve been writing all my life, and it’s been at the core of me forever. Fundamentally, it’s part of how I understand the world and of the story I tell about myself. Nursing is new. The decision to take this path is a few years old, and the actual program just begun, and yet: this changes who I am and informs my identity.
Like I said earlier, what a silly little idea I had of what this choice meant.