I have heard people say that they became a nurse for various reasons; to help others, because they will always have a job, because it is a respected profession, because there are many career choices, and so on. I don’t believe that I decided to become a nurse; I believe that nursing chose me.
I remember taking care of a middle-aged, married woman with a loving husband and three children. She had suddenly collapsed due to a travelling clot and shortly thereafter developed an anoxic brain injury. Later that day she was pronounced brain dead. Although completely overwhelmed by this unexpected event, her family decided to donate her organs, which ultimately gave hope for life to seven other individuals. Never have I seen such a painful event turned into such hope for so many others. Nursing is hope.
One night I was taking care of a young Hispanic man who was here in the country alone and had no family. He had developed an aggressive form of cancer and was quickly deteriorating. He had no visitors, and there was no one to call. This man was going to die. I stood at his bedside, holding his hand as he struggled to breathe. Before he died, he thanked me for being there with him. I realized what a privilege it was to be able to comfort him in his greatest time of need. Nursing is comfort.
I once had a patient with the worst case of psoriasis I had ever seen. He was covered in scaly patches of dry, itching skin. He had developed quite a nasty disposition over the years, a coping mechanism, I presumed, to keep people at a distance. After a lifetime of ridicule, it seemed he had given up on humanity. After spending some time with him, I became deeply aware of his suffering and misfortune. I spent the next three hours bathing him and applying medicine to his scars, both physical and emotional. When he realized how different he looked, he began to cry; he said that for the first time in his life, he “felt human.” I don’t remember feeling such sorrow for an individual in my entire career. Nursing is compassion.
The people who have most affected my nursing career are other nurses I have admired over the years; people who make me want to be a better nurse and a better person. I admire those nurses with endless patience, true advocates for the sick, the ones who aren’t afraid to lay their hands on and comfort the wounded, and cry with the lost. I’m inspired by those nurses who believe that change does not always have to come from the top, but from individuals who care, who are passionate and determined. Nursing is connecting with these heroes.
If Florence Nightingale could see us now, she would be pleased at how far nursing has come as a profession and an art. Although nursing in her time was viewed as a less than desirable occupation, Nightingale knew it was so much more, and I agree with her when she said,
“Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit? It is one of the Fine Arts: I had almost said, the finest of Fine Arts.”
Sherry Evans is a staff nurse in the emergency department at Floyd Memorial Hospital, New Albany, Indiana.
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