Day in and day out, nursing can take a toll on even the most motivated RN. Staying optimistic while working long hours in less-than-optimal conditions -- not to mention dealing with irate patients, colleagues and supervisors -- can be a monumental challenge that may at times cause you to second-guess your choice of profession. Thankfully, though, a moment or situation occasionally occurs that makes it all worthwhile and validates your decision to become a nurse.
Three veteran nurses share memorable “aha” moments in their careers.
The Circle of Life
Karen Lowe, an emergency room/triage nurse at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, can tick off at least three such moments in her 26-year career. Her most recent one can be attributed to the impeccable timing of a laboring mother and her very vocal newborn.
Lowe was caring for an 82-year-old oncology patient who’d come into the ER with abdominal pain and needed pain medication before being sent to another unit. Despite her considerable pain, the patient -- who’d previously undergone chemotherapy and radiation -- had a positive attitude and a pleasant demeanor.
At the same time Lowe was caring for the oncology patient, a woman was in labor in the room next door. As the laboring mom screamed at the top of her lungs, her baby emerged at the same moment, also screaming. The elderly oncology patient “just smiled and said ‘thank you,’” Lowe said. “She’d just heard the birth of a baby, and it was very exciting and special for her.” For Lowe, a simple smile from a patient can work wonders in outweighing the negatives of nursing. “It’s kind of nice that another patient was able to help bring a smile to my patient’s face,” she said.
Sandy Cochran, a certified wound ostomy continence nurse at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, says her life was touched by a strong-willed patient in 2007. The 42-year-old woman, who had used a wheelchair since childhood, had a chronic disorder that caused frequent hospitalizations due to infections. She went to Fox Chase for an ostomy surgery, and was expected to stay in Cochran’s unit for a month at most. The patient ended up staying for nine months -- almost unheard of in an acute-care setting -- and her wounds and ostomy care needs were very complicated.
“It was very challenging to care for her, and she had this strong-willed personality,” Cochran said. “Nine months in the hospital with us -- the majority of her time in bed -- was not her plan.” Cochran doesn’t sugarcoat the experience of caring for the patient, who had a supportive husband and had held a full-time job prior to her hospitalization. “She had a sweet side, but she got where she was in life because of her strong personality,” Cochran said. “She drained us, physically and mentally.”
The “aha” moment in Cochran’s experience of caring for this patient came when it was finally time for the patient to leave the hospital for a rehabilitation facility. The last time Cochran saw the patient, they hugged. “She said, ‘I’m never going to forget what you did for me,’” Cochran said. “She said, ‘I wasn’t joking when I said that I’m going to cook you a meal. You don’t know what I can do.’”
Two weeks after her discharge, the patient unexpectedly died at the rehab facility. Fox Chase staff filled an entire pew at the funeral. “She taught us a lot of life lessons,” Cochran said. Thanks to this patient, “we did a lot of learning in our profession and our lives.”
Serving the Underserved
Carl Helvie’s “aha” moment is equally bittersweet. Helvie, an RN who holds a doctorate in public health, received a grant from the Division of Nursing at the National Institutes of Health to run a healthcare center in a homeless shelter in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in the late 1990s. More than 120 people per month -- with conditions including diabetes, hypertension and cancer -- were served by the center.
Helvie’s grant expired after just over three years and was not renewed. However, there was a silver lining to the center’s closing: When former patients of the center heard its days were numbered, they came to tell Helvie their stories.
“One woman in her early 40s came and said she was so sorry that we were closing and that she would not have survived without our center,” Helvie said. “She had never had any kind of healthcare in the past, and without our services she never would have been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was definitely an ‘aha’ moment. At times like that I feel like we have done something to honor God and to honor our profession of nursing.”