A year at U of R

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

A thankless job?

I was chatting yesterday with one of the people I've worked with this summer at the HIP Teens research project as part of the Fuld Fellowship. I asked her, "would you ever consider being a nurse?"

"It's so thankless!" she said. "And you have to clean up messes, wash people. I don't think I'd want to do that."

I still get this response from many of my friends. Some of my classmates have realized that nursing, or at least working as a floor nurse, is not for them.

However, it's hard for me to verbalize how gratifying the experience is. By the nature of the job, the relationships with patients are intense and personal. You can't wash someone, listen to them cry, joke with them, shave them, and feed them breakfast without developing a personal connection. They make a deep impression on you, just as much as you make a difference to them as their nurse. It's a reciprocal relationship. You become, for a morning or afternoon, a small but important part of their life. If that isn't rewarding, what is?

Over the five weeks of summer clinicals, a number of the patients I've worked with have died, and more of them have terminal illnesses and won't be alive much longer. None have actually died while I was there. I wondered how I would handle that. To be honest, I've been happy for most of them, and felt that it was time. We have great technology for keeping people alive, and we have a culture doesn't accept aging and sickness. Yet sometimes it seems that death is the best treatment. At times, I'm glad I have some distance from the clients. Their families have known them when they were healthy, and they mourn the loss of the person they used to know. I only knew them when they were already confused, disabled or unresponsive.

I've also been challenged with patients whom I don't like. I worked with one client who, if I met on the street, I simply wouldn't like as a person. That was a challenge. At times, I could feel some empathy toward the client's condition. I could find one aspect of the person that I appreciated. However, sometimes, I just wanted to just leave the room. I guess there will always be a few cases like that. They seem to be a tiny minority, though.

Thus ends the summer semester!

I'm really amazed by how far we've come. After one summer, I already feel that giving an injection or giving meds is no big deal. I still feel a little awkward at times, but that's just a matter of time. I've worked with patients from age 18 to age 96, of all different backgrounds. Most of them have very compelling life stories. I wish I could write a novel about them all. I've seen kidney and liver transplant patients, AIDS patients and patients with strokes, epilepsy, diabetes and heart failure. I've suctioned a tracheostomy, given injections, written nursing notes in the client's files, and changed countless beds. I really never expected to be exposed to clients with this variety and severity of illnesses in just the first couple of weeks of clinicals.

By the end of our fifth week together, my clinical group of 8 students plus an instructor had really bonded. Our instructor actually works several nights a week in the same unit we were working in. She was really phenomenal with the amount she did for us. She was a great teacher, plus being very low-key. We all went out for margaritas and quesadillas to celebrate.

As a final close before the holidays, here's a photo I took on a bike ride. A farmer had planted a whole hillside with sunflowers. Very Van Gogh.