Am I Patient Enough to be a Nurse?

This first “Writing About Me” prompt is also taken from the 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco’s Writing Grotto (although they also have a 642 Things to Write About Me workbook that’s sitting blank on my shelf…). I’ve always thought James Lipton’s version of the Proust Questionnaire is a good conversation starter (and a good first date ice breaker), and while many of my answers to the questions have changed over the years, the consistent one has been what profession other than my own I would like to attempt.

So here I’ve attempted what I think a day as a nurse would have looked like for me. This entry has been inspired by Adam Kay’s books.

At the beginning of my career, I preferred nights, thinking I’d found a way around getting up early. What I didn’t know was that getting out of bed and going to work would never get easier no matter what time I set my alarm for. 

When my phone goes off at 6:30 p.m. on a January evening, it might as well be morning time that I still struggle to get out of bed. After a shower and a cup of tea, I’m out the door and on the road. With my days and nights fully reversed, nothing feels weird about having an egg sandwich and hash browns at my desk at 8:15 p.m. before seeing my first patient. 

Scanning my emails shows nothing that can’t wait until the end of my shift in 12 hours’ time, so I pop some gum in and go see my first patient. A 19-year-old female on an IV drip after alcohol poisoning.

“Home for winter break?” I ask her. The sooner I get her talking, the sooner I can empty the bed for the next person. Her notes show she’s been here since the morning, with BAC of 0.21, responsiveness sporadic. 

“Yes. I met with my friends from high school before I go back this weekend,” she says quietly. She’s rubbing her head, and I see goosebumps on her arms.

“I see. Well, let me get you another blanket while you wait for someone to pick you up.”

“My dad went home to get me some clothes and said he’d be back.”

“That’s fine. But please, take better care when you get back to school,” I say. I know full well this advice has a 50% success rate.

I make my way to the next room. 8-year-old male with a likely broken wrist. Waiting for results of X-rays, given kids’ Tylenol for pain half an hour earlier. Mom is sitting with him on the bed playing on an iPad when I poke my head in. 

“Hi, my name is Vanessa and I’m taking over for Nurse Ryan. Anything I can get for you guys while you wait?” I never understood nurses who insist of being addressed a certain way. We all got our certification (we wouldn’t be seeing patients without it) and letters besides RN are meaningless for people outside the profession. They only care about doctors versus nurses.

“Do you know how long the results will take?” Mom asks.

“Says here he went in an hour ago, and they’re not too busy back there so it shouldn’t take much longer.” I have no way of knowing if that’s true or not as I haven’t been back to Radiology yet, but what Mom doesn’t know…

“I’m hungry,” the patient says.

“I’ll get you some crackers, or a sandwich since you probably haven’t had dinner.”

His face lights up just as Mom says, “Nothing with gluten, if it’s possible.” Of course.

With a smile and a nod, I go to the next room. 20-year-old female with abdominal pain. Pregnancy test negative, waiting to go for a PET scan for appendicitis. And so I’ve found my favorite for the night.

“Hi there. How are you feeling?” She’s alone, shivering and with tear streaks down her face. 

“I’m just waiting.”

“Let’s get you a blanket. Are you here with anyone?”

“No. I’m from out of state,” she says and sniffs.

“I just started my shift, so please ring that button when you need anything or have any questions, okay?” I made a decision early on in my training that I wouldn’t use pet names for patients. No one takes a twenty-something nurse seriously when she addresses patients by “honey” or “sweetie.”

The triage nurse brings in a brand new patient into an empty room, so my introductions have to stop while I assess him. The man is walking with a limp and there’s some blood trickling down the bad leg. I make a point to mention to triage to at least offer wheelchairs. His face is ashen and his hands are trembling, and a young girl follows behind him carrying a coat. I introduce myself but he looks at the girl instead of at me and doesn’t respond.

“My dad doesn’t speak English,” she says. 

She interprets as I go about asking what happened and checking his chart. The girl keeps an even tone as she rattles off in English then what sounds like Farsi, but the patient sounds agitated and grimaces in between sentences. Once I confirm there aren’t any allergies, I hook up an IV and run to get a bag and painkillers. I leave them to wait for the doctor, hanging his chart in its place next to the door, and grab a few blankets, a sandwich and drink. I could have checked our gluten-free fridge on a slower day, but Broken Wrist’s chart didn’t show any allergies that Mom stated when they came in.

I already lose track of how long I’ve been away from the first set of patients when I give Broken Wrist his sandwich and the doctor is with him. He’s a little teary-eyed as the doctor examines his wrist gingerly, and I know she’s looking to set it in place when she glances at me with the food – she’s had people throw up on her before when she resets broken bones.

“Give this to him when I’m bandaging him up after the doctor is done,” I whisper in Mom’s ear. “To distract him.” She’s so focused on her little boy that she doesn’t notice the sandwich is full of gluten and the drink is an off-brand soda.

I drop off the spare blankets, making a point to make a loud noise as I walk into Alcohol Poisoning’s room. She perks up and whimpers as I drape the blanket on top of her. When I go see Potential Appendicitis, she has her arms around her stomach and is sniffling and grimacing.

When I make my way back to check on Bloody Limp, he’s calmed down a bit and the daughter is on her phone. I make a mental note to go to Radiology to see how far away Appendicitis is from being seen, then get to work on cleaning up the cut on this patient’s leg before the doctor comes in. 

I’m barely an hour and a half in, but I wish I could tell my younger self that there is visibly no difference between a day and a night shift as far as getting out of bed goes. Or as far as looking forward to the weekend, except my “weekend” is Tuesday to Thursday this week. Now where did my pen go…