Thursday, March 1, 2012


This evening I got home, put my wine bottle in the freezer (it was a Big Joe wine glass kind of night), lit candles, put on the most soothing music on my iPod, turned off the lights, got in the shower, and just stood there.

I just finished week 8 of the spring semester. And I'm tired. Bone deep tired. Tired on every level. And it's not just the level of work or stress or fear of failing, because I've been there before (although never quite on this level of intensity and time commitment). It's not just the physicality of my days at the hospital or the anxiety that comes from trying to manage writing and school at the same time (not to mention being a real person too, if possible in rare moments).

My heart is tired.

I think anyone who goes through nursing school experiences all of these wild emotional ups and downs as we try to acclimate to and normalize things that are in no way normal. But I've realized something about myself specifically-the qualities that make me a writer, the ability to notice tiny little details, to pick up on people's emotions and unspoken feelings, to sense way more than I often want to sense about a person, those qualities are going to help make me a good nurse. They're also going to consistently wreck me.

Everyone notices details. But writers obsess about them. They clog in our brains and replay in intense color and vibrance. And the details you encounter as a nursing student, in a hospital with people who are sick and/or dying, the details I've noticed the last few weeks, are just hard.

These are the things I keep going back to: a mother's notebook, full of all the details of her son's long sickness, medication names and printed out journal articles; the way a sister quietly and softly rubbed her unconscious sibling's arm, just wiling him to know she was there; pictures of grandchildren at dance recitals; shoes brought from home; wives who can in detail list their husbands medical history in exact, almost scientific detail; the nervous chatter of a woman about to receive her first chemotherapy treatment, this armor of sarcasm and nonchalance that broke apart every few minutes when she asked things like when she would start to lose her hair.

And this is nothing. No one has died on me. I've never seen a sick child. I haven't even begun to get to the hard stuff.

It's hard for everyone. I'm going to make it even harder on myself, because I can't just look at a person from a distance. I see these people I interact with in every tiny detail, in every story told, in the TV judge shows they watch, in the way they take their coffee, "with creamer and two of the blue packs."

I believe it's going to make me a better nurse, because I will look at the whole person, which is the fundamental core of what nursing is as a profession. I also believe it will, consistently, break my heart. It will consistently create moments like this evening, when I started to tear up during an episode of Parenthood (as I do every time I watch that darn, wonderful show) and end up shaking with sobs on my couch-all of those details lodged firmly in my throat, refusing to let go. The challenge is finding a way to live with it without becoming hard, without losing those details and turning my patients into diagnoses instead of human beings.

And until then there's always wine.

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