I get asked all the time by my patients “So, why did you want to be a Nurse?” Honestly, it wasn’t my first choice of career or even my second or third. I wanted to be a lot of different things when I was growing up. I wanted to be a Lawyer for the longest time. I didn’t want to be a lawyer though because they made a bunch of money. Though I’ve never been opposed to making a lot of money. I wanted to be a Lawyer so I could help people. That’s the key right there. I’ve always wanted to help people or animals or both, actually. Then for a pretty short-lived phase I wanted to be a Soil Conservationist. Maybe this was because I had a crush on my teacher that taught that subject and was trying to get some attention? That was probably it but it did have to do with science and I’ve always loved science. Then I wanted to be an Interior Designer. I would have probably done well at that? I love designing in my own home now but that wasn’t really helping people. I wanted to be a Veterinarian until I found out you actually have to work on injured, hurting and sometimes dying animals and God forbid, put them to sleep. Then that idea faded as quickly as it started. Of course then there was the time when I was 16 that I wanted to be a Rockstar. I still want to be a Rockstar, by the way. I was very talented in the Arts and had even been suggested by my 9th grade Art teacher that I should attend the Winston-Salem School of the Arts. She had even written a letter of recommendation and then she spoke with my dad and that was the end of that. He was not having it. He was a single parent at that point and he wasn’t going to send his fifteen years old daughter off to live in a dorm and he surely wasn’t going to take me there and pick me up everyday. So just like everything else in my life, my dad shot my dreams down once more. Who knows where I’d be today if that would’ve happened? As you can tell Nursing was definitely the last thing on my mind.
I have a lot of issues with my dad and still do but he did work all the time, and to be fair to him, he never received any child support money from my mom. After he divorced my Evil Stepmonster and then before he married her, for 3 years, he had two girls to raise, on his own. I think now that he made a lot of questionable choices but he was doing the best he knew how to do. I do admire him for that. And while on the subject of my parents. My mom pulled a vanishing act and my parents divorced. That brings me to the reason I had an overwhelming desire in me to help people. When my mom left my dad in the middle of the night and simply left a note saying she was going to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes. I think that’s when it all started for me. She never came back. I was 7 and my sister was 3. That was when I was all of a sudden, and without warning, put into the position of a caretaker. At 7 years old I was taking care of my little sister. I was more like her mom from then on, than her sister. The strange thing was I actually liked taking care of her. I was her guardian. I looked out for her. I helped her dress. I made sure she wasn’t getting into things and making sure she was clean, safe and fed. It actually made me feel good knowing I was helping. Yeah, it all started then. That feeling you get when you know you’ve made a difference, to someone.
I heard a story one time on an awards show I was watching. It was a Teachers award show. Don’t ask, I have no idea even why I was watching it but this Teacher had won an award for being Teacher of the Year and was making an acceptance speech and it has stuck with me ever since. So, it went something like this… This man was walking down the beach at a certain time of the year. At this particular time of the year, every year thousands of starfish would wash up on the beach and because they couldn’t get back they would lay there and die. Well, this man was walking along and picking them up, one at a time and throwing them back in the ocean. This lady saw him doing this. As she approached him and asked him why was he even bothering? And told him to look around. That there was no way to save them all. What difference did it make to throw back in a few? He didn’t answer her at first and just bent down and picked up another starfish and proceeded to throw that one back into the water, that gave it life, and he turned to her and simply said “It made a difference to that one.”. After I heard that story it really touched me deeply. I realized then that no one person can save the world but you can make a difference to “that one.”.
When I turned thirty I had an epiphany. I cried all day that day. I felt like I had not done with my life what I was supposed to do. I had a decent job. I was working for the State of North Carolina. I was a bus driver/monitor on a special needs bus. I was helping people but, what had I done with my life? I couldn’t live in poverty the rest of my life and depend on someone else to take care of me. I had to do something, but what? I started off by taking Medical Transcription. It wasn’t long before I realized I was really enjoying the “science” side of it but not so much the typing. I still can’t type correctly. I just hunt and peck really fast. So, I thought maybe something a little more in-depth. I had been a CNA for a long time at this point and done some in home care and worked at a Nursing Home. I did not want to be a Nurse. They had too much responsibility and too much paperwork. I decided I’d do something a little less stressful. I would do Dental Assisting. I applied for the program. Took the entrance test and it was going to be maybe a year before I could get in but I was on the waiting list. In the meantime I’m still taking classes and working full-time. The more I thought about Dental Assisting the worse it seemed. I’d have to work first shift and I didn’t like that. Even though driving the bus was always very early in the morning. It also had that gap in the middle of the day so I could go to school. I didn’t want to work first shift for the rest of my life though. What kind of difference was I going to make to people as a Dental Assistant? I mean some but not what I had in mind when talking about making a difference. I was at war with myself and maybe a little bit of fear was there. What if I wasn’t smart enough to be a Nurse? What if I couldn’t pass the entrance exam? I’d heard it was tough. Did I really want to be a Nurse and take on all that responsibility? I wasn’t real sure of anything but I had this drive in me that wouldn’t let up. I could really make a difference to people if I were a Nurse. So after a lot of warring within myself I thought, why not just try, and see how you do on the entrance exam? I thought that would be that because I probably wouldn’t pass and then this crazy idea of being a Nurse would be gone. I got the book to help me prepare for the entrance exam. After working in the book for sometime I really thought that there is no way that I will pass this. You had to score in the top 60 to get into the RN program and the next 30 below that would be offered to do the LPN program. Top 60 I thought. I wasn’t even going to pass so forget top 60. Maybe I should just go and try to get in somewhere else? Somewhere you didn’t have to do that ridiculous test. I did go check out another Community College and my grades and average was so good that they would immediately accept me. I didn’t want to go to that school but I had to do something. I surely wasn’t getting any younger so I had a backup plan. I’ve always been a slow reader and the test was timed. I was in the”Slow”class in the 4th grade. I was in class with the Autistic, Down Syndrome, behavioral problems, ADHD, mentally handicaped kids. I hadn’t been able to hear for years and when I finally had surgery on my ears in the 3rd grade. By then I was so far behind everyone else and I talked like someone who was mostly deaf and that is why I ended up in the TMH class. That’s what they called the class back then. It stood for Trainable Mentally Handicaped. I was called retarded and made fun of. I had to go to speech therapy all the way through the 9th grade to learn how to talk correctly again. I probably had ADHD but back then they didn’t hand out Ritalin like candy. I have dyslexia just like my dad and come to find out that was why I was never a fast reader. So here I was. The “retarded” kid. The kid who couldn’t “r-r-read”. The kid who couldn’t even say their last name correctly because it started with “L”. Here was that kid. About to take a timed test that involved reading. I was petrified of not only taking the test but of failing miserably. I wanted to just leave and forget being a Nurse. Why’d I even think I was smart enough to do this in the first place? I took the test. Then I waited. I waited for what seemed like forever to get that letter. The letter that let you know not only if you’d passed but let you know where you placed so you’d know which program you were eligible to attend. I thought maybe I should just give up this crazy idea. I mean I was working on a special needs bus with the kids that were like I use to be. I was making a difference to them. Sure, I was working two jobs and sometimes three but I was getting by. I wasn’t starving or anything. I wasn’t scared of working hard. I had worked hard all my life. I had to work if I was ever going to have anything. I had been working since I was 10. I knew I could do physical labor and if that’s what I had to do then that’s what I’d do. Then about a month after I took the test I got the letter. I was afraid to even open it. I laid it on the kitchen table and just stared at it for some time. I finally got up enough nerve to open it. I thought it was just going to say you passed or failed and this is what program you’re eligible for but that wasn’t what it said. It said what percentile you were placed in. I was actually confused. I wasn’t really clear about what it was saying. I called my best friend and asked her to look at it. When she looked over the papers she said she wasn’t sure but she thought it meant I had passed. “Whew.” I thought. Well, at least I passed. She suggested I call the school the next day and ask them exactly what it all meant. I called as soon as I got off the bus that morning and they put me in touch with one of the counsellors. I didn’t want to do the LPN program first but if that’s what I had to do then that’s what I’d do. I had prepared for the worst. I still remember the man laughing when after reading him what my paper said I told him it was okay if I had to do the LPN program first I’d just go ahead and start the next year the second half of the RN program and that was fine too. I couldn’t figure out what was so funny about what I was saying. Then he continued to chuckle as he said “Why do you think you’d have to do that?” And then he continued “You scored in the top three!” He laughed again. Wow! Not only had I passed but I was in the top three. I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked. I asked him again if he was sure. I told him my name, birthday and student number just so he could make sure that it was me we were talking about. He confirmed again laughingly that, yes, he knew all of that and yes, it was me and that I was in the top three and so I didn’t need to worry about taking the LPN program and that I was most definitely in the RN program starting this fall. I called and told my Grandma first as soon as I hung up with the humored counsellor. She however was not surprised that I had done so well and she told me that I had always been very intelligent and she knew that and that all I had needed was to be given the chance. I loved her so much. She was so proud of me. Grandma wasn’t someone who gloated but I think she called everyone she knew to tell them that I was going to be a Nurse. I lost her to Cancer the May of the year I started Nursing school. I started that August. But she knew and she was still so proud. She’d tell everybody that came in the room at the hospital that this was her granddaughter, Karen and she’s going to be a Nurse. I hadn’t even started my first nursing class but she knew. I miss her so much, still. I hope if there is life after death and it’s possible for people to see down from heaven. I hope she was there that day. At the pinning ceremony. She was the one I wanted to pin my pin on me. Something happened with our graduating class and none of us got to have anyone else pin us. The instructors did it. I was sad for the rest but I was honestly relieved for myself. All I could think of was Grandma. It made it easier not to cry when it was Mrs. Holcombe and not my dad. Not only had her granddaughter graduated but she had graduated with honors.
Well, that was how I became a Nurse but it doesn’t explain why I wanted to be a Nurse. There are a lot of reasons I wanted to be a Nurse. I wanted to help people. I like people, most of the time. I don’t like to be bored. You don’t have to worry about getting bored as a Nurse, that is for sure. I like getting to know my patients. I love hearing their stories, meeting their families, getting to hear all about their lives. What did or do they do for a living? Do they have kids or grandkids or nieces and nephews? How did they end up here at the hospital and in the area they are living in? What do they do for fun? I just love taking time to make each one feel like they’re my only patient. I know what it feels like to be scared. The hospital can be a scary place. I want to help them to be as comfortable as they can possibly be in their current situation. I love learning something new everyday. I love figuring out what’s going on in the disease process and how it’s affecting my patient. I like gross stuff. Yes, even suctioning a trach. I’m fascinated by the human body and how complex it is. I’m fascinated that we are all the same but so different. I love the feeling of accomplishment that I get when I know that I helped someone to get better and they get to go home. I like making people laugh. Laughter is the best medicine after all. I like being the one to be my patients advocate. Looking out for them and what’s best for them. I love teaching my patients things that they can do differently so this illness doesn’t bring them back to the hospital again. I love being a Nurse. Now that I am a Nurse, I can’t imagine not being a Nurse. What could I have ever been that would compare to this? Yes, I do want to go back and become a Nurse Practitioner but that’s just so I can help people more. I’ve been a lot of things in my life and have had many different jobs but I think it was all in preparation for this. Being a Nurse is what I was called to do. It’s hard, it’s physically and mentally demanding. It’s scary and overwhelming sometimes. It’s not for the faint of heart or a weak stomach. You’ll get thanked sometimes. You’ll get cursed a lot of times. You’ll save most but you’ll lose some too. You’ll never make enough money for the things you do. You’ll get tired and sick. You’ll get hit, kicked, punched, spit on, vomited on, urinated on, crapped on, smacked, called names, told that you are hated, complained about, lied on, and much more. But! If that patient stops breathing you’ll be the first one calling the code, bagging them, doing chest compressions until your arms fall off, starting IV,IO or whatever they need. Pushing that Atropine, Adenosine, Epi, Lidocaine. You’ll be the first one to visit them in the unit after they’ve made it through or you’ll be the one calling the family if they don’t. It’s not a glamorous job or even an appreciated job, most days, but it’s an important job, everyday.
“So, why did you want to be a Nurse?” I guess my answer is quite simply… Because I want to help people and make a difference. One patient at a time. “It made a difference to that one.”