The life cycle of a Nurse

lamp-nursing“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.” This is an age old quote from King Solomon, but rings true for nurses of every kind as well.

There is a time to be born. There are new nurses being born every day. They are graduating from nursing school and entering the work place with enthusiasm, motivation and compassion.

They are so fresh, and alive, and interested. I must admit, sometimes the newness can be a bit annoying… but it is needed.

Every profession needs that fresh surge of life. And nursing is no exception.

There is a time to die. Dying happens all around us – in the world and in the workplace. To the nursing profession, dying happens when the older nurses, who have been around since white dresses, white nylons, winged hats, drip rates, and paper charts, decide to retire.

That is like a death in a sense, a loss. It is felt by coworkers who rely on the more experienced ones for expertise and wisdom, for help and guidance.

And sometimes, as I have experienced this past year, a literal death takes place. A nurse who has worked hard all her life has died. Life and death are working around us every day.

There is a time to plant. Sometimes the work of nurses is like planting.

When we meet a new patient for the first time, the nurse begins the process of “planting” seeds in the patient’s and family’s minds and hearts. Sometimes the seeds are teaching… about a new medication, or the disease process, or the steps to take to improve gait or mobility.

Sometimes the seeds are those of kindness… offering a much needed shower, or a touch, a smile or a phone call.

These are all seeds of nursing, one’s planted in our patients’ and families’ lives.

There is a time to uproot. Nurses don’t always plant seeds. We are there to uproot too.

Nurses see many health conditions and behaviors on a daily basis that need uprooting.

When an alcoholic patient is experiencing withdrawal, we “uproot” using the CIWA scale to help with withdrawal severity. Sometimes the uprooting is done in the way of teaching how to stop bad health behaviors and decisions.

We help uproot bad eating habits in a diabetic patient. Surgery is a form of uprooting when other less invasive interventions have been ineffective.

Nurses are there post op to help the patient recover.

There is a time to weep. Crying is a regular part of the nursing experience and can be healing for both the patient and the nurse.

There are so many life threatening and life changing experiences. Our work as nurses puts us right in the middle of them.

We cry with a stroke patient who is realizing for the first time they will no longer have use of their right arm.

We cry with parents whose son sustained a traumatic brain injury and may be debilitated for the rest of his life.

We cry at the bedside of a dying patient, realizing they may have days or hours left to live.

And we cry for ourselves. Nursing can be a very stressful profession.

There is a time to laugh. Laughing helps diffuse stress helps with healing and is “the best medicine”.

Having a sense of humor goes a long way in the nursing profession.

I am always delighted when I take care of patients whose families know how to laugh. It brings a sense of cohesiveness and support when friends and family can laugh in the midst of illness.

Nurses too have a “book” of funny patient stories that we like to retell over and over again.

There is a time to mourn. Mourning is different than crying.

Mourning is a process that may include crying, but is deeper and longer and requires work and commitment from the mourner.

As nurses, we see many patients and families who are mourning. We ourselves, or a coworker, may be mourning.

It is good to be aware that this is a “season” where someone may feel gloomy, sad or introspective.

A patient or loved one cannot be jolted out of mourning. It is a condition from which he or she emerges gradually. Sensitivity, as nurses, to this process will help us in our practice and in our private lives as well.

There is a time to dance. Nurses have much to dance about. We dance when a discharged patient comes back to say hello. We dance when our social workers help to get displaced patients back to their own countries. We dance when we see a patient making progress with physical therapy. We dance when a fellow nurse receives an honor or award. In nursing, there is definitely a time to dance.

There is a time to embrace. Giving hugs is one of the many ways nurses say “I care.” Hugging and touch help bring healing, comfort and can also help diffuse some situations. Embracing happens in other ways too. We can embrace a person’s religion or cultural practice while they are under our care. This helps a patient feel accepted and validated… and helps in the healing process.

There is also a time to refrain from embracing. Every one has personal space. As nurses and individuals, being aware of patient’s personal space is important. Sometimes people do not want to be embraced or touched. They need time and space to process what is happening in their lives. Sensitivity to this is an important acquired skill in nursing.

There is a time to search… The search for answers to “why?” is encountered on a daily basis in the medical profession. Why did my loved one die? Why is he or she sick? What will make them better? What caused the disease? What is the cure? How long will it take? And there is definitely a time to search for answers. As nurses, we offer our patients information, education, resources and support. We offer research-based and medically guided interventions. And sometimes, after all has been said and done, we have to give up searching. We give an honest “I don’t know why.” There is a time for both, a time for searching and a time to give up searching.

There is a time to be silent… Silence is a lost art in our busy, noisy hospitals. As nurses, we use the art of silence to offer comfort to a patient who has just received bad news, when there are no words to say. Our hospitals offer silence through healing gardens and court yards where patients and families can go to have quiet, reflective space. The use of silence is important and should be incorporated into our practices every day.

There is a time to speak. As nurses we are advocates for our patients. We speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. We speak to the physicians about orders or plan of care. We speak to families, social workers, therapists, chaplains, dieticians. Advocacy and speaking are one of the primary privileges and responsibilities in our work.

There is balance and rhythm in the life and work of nurses. There is life and death, planting and uprooting, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing. There is embracing or refraining, searching or giving up searching, speaking or staying silent.

I honor and validate the work and rhythm of nurses everywhere… And especially so during Nurses Week!

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