This Thursday we will celebrate another year of Thanksgiving in the U.S. It is often a time to reflect and be thankful for the blessings in our lives. I wanted to take a moment to write about how thankful I am to be a nurse.
I spent a couple of days recently discussing the nursing profession with a small group of nurses from across the country. We discussed the common bond we all share for wanting to help others and the feelings of internal fulfillment when we can provide nursing care to patients and their families. Yet, what is often not discussed is our inherent superpower that holds the potential to benefit the lives of other human beings.
Superpowers aren’t seen on a daily normative basis. Instead, superpowers come out when there is some unexpected result, distress, or crisis that calls for an intervention. Nurses’ superpower, in my opinion, is the ability to save the lives of other human beings. This is something that everyone should be thankful for, not just the nurses.
We are all human beings which means that we may become patients at some point in our lives. This makes us vulnerable and dependent on those providing us with care. Nurses are the caregivers at the bedside 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you know it or not, they are assessing you and your progress always: waiting, watching, wondering, “is he/she getting better, staying the same, or am I going to have to do something soon?”
To offer a personal example, there was one event that I recall from my practice that I’ll never forget. I was working a night shift. Night shifts were anxiety provoking as I was racing against the clock the second that I arrived on my shift. All the evening meds were due at 8 pm and I started at 7 pm with the first 30 minutes for shift report. The next 5 to 6 hours were spent running to get caught up and hope that by 1 am I could have everyone settled and let them rest. Yet, it often wasn’t until 8 hours later when I would get my first breather at 3 or 4 am.
It was stressful – always. However, it wasn’t about me. It was about the patients and giving them the care they needed and deserved from me as their nurse. During this run at night, I’d periodically check back at the telemetry tapes to make sure that there wasn’t anything irregular that came through on any of the patients. Almost all the time, I could figure them out. However, this one evening, I saw an irregular telemetry tape come through on a patient that had just had a pacemaker placed in her chest.
Pacemakers are often used to intervene on irregular or life threatening heart rhythms and ‘pace’ them to a normal rhythm. That night, I was baffled by the tape because it didn’t look like a paced tape and I couldn’t tell if it was artifact or not (e.g., noise on the system). I asked several people about the tape until I got an answer from an expert. The tape was not artifact and it showed an issue with the pacemaker. The following day, the team addressed the issue identified before the patient was sent home. I cared for her again that following evening. The medical team thanked me and so did the patient and her family. While I appreciated the thanks, I didn’t do it for that reason. I was doing what I knew how to do and what was expected of me as a nurse.
That is just one of my stories when I unexpectedly needed to turn up the dial on my nursing skills, e.g., superpower. There are many others in my memory bank: performing the Heimlich on a woman choking at dinner, pulling a young girl out of a pool when she fell in, and forcing a facility to move someone to higher level care due to his visible decline. Nurses all have those experiences in their memory banks where they had to leverage their superpower. It is just what nurses do and are prepared to handle for every day.
So, this Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks to nurses, and their impact on us as human beings. One out of every 100 is a nurse. Nurses are in the business of caring for others, and quite often placing the care of others ahead of caring for themselves. We, the public, are often unaware of how much nurses are paying attention to us as individuals, patients, family members and anticipating our needs. Their ability to turn on their superpower and then turn it off once no longer needed is remarkable and often unpredictable to the untrained eye. Even more amazing is the associated humility and grace with which this occurs. If you have a friend or family member in your life who is a nurse, be sure to give them some special thanks for what they do. They deserve to hear it.