It’s a strange thing this working in a hospital. Your professional environment is people who are having the most painful, out of control times of their lives. Or maybe, and often in the medical-surgical ICU where I work, the realization that this is how their life is going to end. It’s heavy stuff. I love heavy stuff. I love being a critical care nurse.

I’m not that great at it yet. I started in February, oriented for 4 months, took patients while I did 9 months of additional training and education.  I use a lot of support from fellow nurses, pharmacists, physical therapy, speech therapy, and I couldn’t do hardly a thing without respiratory therapists. Some attendings are sent from heaven. Others can go well you know where. I’ve had a handful of very, very sick patients which have stayed with me for nights in dreams where I complete the tasks I wish I’d gotten to during my shift. I’ve had many not terrifyingly sick but fragile patients who kept me less occupied with medical needs and more busy with human needs: company, anxiety, hunger, bathroom stuff.

Bedside nursing and shift work? I thought it was something to be suffered through. But like the intensivist I respect and will one day impress always tells me: “You are wrong.”I have no desk. I’ve sent maybe 2 emails. I never know what I’m walking into, but I know it’ll be over and up to the next shift in about 13 hours. This is a relief (out of my hands) and a responsibility (don’t leave a mess for your coworkers).  I’ve never looked forward to work the way I do now. I also regularly come home and lose my mind. I have sworn I was going to quit at least 3 times. I have a new resume for every season. But the deeper in I get, the more I feel the need for the creativity, chaos, and appallingly funny bedside world.

Aside from the heaps of scientific and human condition knowledge I’ve gotten in the past year, bedside nursing has been a self-improvement miracle. Accomplishments I’m most proud of:

Stern voice always at the ready. “PLEASE DON’T PULL THE TUBE OR YOU’LL DIE.” “YOU HAVE TO STAY IN BED OR YOU’LL FALL AND BLEED OUT OF YOUR HEAD.” “NO EATING WITH THE BIPAP ON OR YOU’LL CHOKE TO DEATH.”

Always at the ready to receive the stern voice. “WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY VENT?” (Nothing I believed you when you said you would eat me if I changed the settings), “WHY HAVEN’T THE CULTURES BEEN SENT YET?” (No chance on peripheral access, gonna need that central line order I mentioned…) “YOU MESSED UP.” (Happens all the time. Tell me what I can do to fix it).

Learned to deliver a come to Jesus moment. I’m getting used to being the punching bag for upset, confused, desperate patients going through the worst of what life has to offer. People’s feelings have to go somewhere. But if your feelings are getting in the way of my care we’re going to have a come to Jesus. There’s the I’m going to come down on you like a ton of bricks with teeth and nails and repressed Catholic rage CTJ: “YOUR YELLING AT ME IS MAKING YOUR WIFE’S BLOOD PRESSURE DANGEROUSLY HIGH AND KEEPING ME FROM DOING MY JOB so please go to the waiting room and I’ll call you when we’re settled.” Alternately, the you are panicking so let me tell you exactly what you are going to do to get through this CTJ: “Your mother is dying. Please stop texting your vacationing siblings. Now is the last time you get to hold her hand and talk to her. It is going to be okay.”

As this first year as a critical care nurse comes to a close, I am so happy to be a humble and regularly humiliated newbie in my place. Hospital people are my people. And I plan on staying put for some time to come.*

*I will still look for a job selling insurance every time they float me to the step down unit.

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