People often ask, “What is the hardest class in nursing school?” As a level one student, I would say it is my clinical, but not in the sense that most people would think.
To conclude my busy week with countless lectures, labs, and EXAMS, I wake up at 5:30AM every Friday morning to get to my clinical rotation on the med-surg floor. I chose nursing because I wanted to care for the underserved geriatric patients and I have a strong background in research and nursing home care. I would say I was a little short-sighted with such a specific vision on a population and setting in which I wanted to work that I didn’t give a second thought to other populations I would come across: children, pregnant women, pre-op/post-op patients, etc. The ED and ICU departments never even came across my mind before I noticed how popular of a field it was at orientation.
In clinical, I saw a lot of things beyond my expectations. I have had patients on some type of isolation precautions every time I’m on the floor so far and a handful of patients who may have to go to hospice. I would see patients whose health conditions dramatically deteriorated–being weaker and more depressed–the next week I come back.
Every night before my clinical, this big question of “What is life?” dawns on me until it’s way past my bedtime and I’ll have to wake up again in a few short hours.
Seeing people going in and out of the hospital, I realized that nursing is not just about tubes and meds and the skills we learn in lecture and lab, or even the “caring personality” people often associate with nursing. In my definition, I feel that we–as healthcare providers who are in the first line of contact with our patients–are responsible for a bigger theme of human life that I cannot find the correct expression for. I see a whole family behind my patients. I see loneliness and vulnerability. I see patients who fight to live despite what others say about “not lasting for long.”
End-of-life care, not limited to the geriatric population, is a mentally and emotionally challenging field to get into. Although I want to pursue geriatrics, which naturally deals a lot with end-of-life care, the idea of life and the accountability causing me to feel anxious and scared…but not in a way that will stop me. Rather, the anxiety and fear serves as a much-needed reminder that as a nurse, I have a responsibility to humanity that will always be present in this line of work. Being scared will probably ease with experience, but I hope I will never forget this feeling of remarkable responsibility and I hope my job never becomes a series of systematic tasks.
I’m sure we all had times where a bad day was suddenly flipped by a happy surprise—even a surprise as small as a good song playing on the radio or an absolutely delicious dinner. I think life is like a REALLY REALLY LOOOOOOOONG day. I don’t expect that I’ll be able to change someone’s life at the last minute, but I hope to provide the full care to the best of my abilities so that my patients and their families can confidently say they had their good last days without regret.
End-of-life care is not “the end,” but preparing the patient and their family to understand for a new form of life beyond the physical being.