Within the next month, I am to distill two particular experiences of my choosing into two separate stories detailing my growth as a nurse.
There are days I don't know up from down, days that compress hour into hour, lifetime into lifetime, days that crush and compress and condense every sound into one aching and continuous roar so loud, so BEEPing, so wailing and cacophonous I can't even hear myself think long enough to distinguish the puking from the crying, let alone imagine how I'm going to help fix it.
There are days I feel like an assembly line worker, churning out product, fixing this, adjusting that, and calling out for the next person in line. Someone literally pisses on us, and we put on a new pair of scrubs and march straight back into that room.
There are days I hate the American health care system and the fact that I'm at the front line of it. There are times that someone tries to end their own life and we're the ones who just barely save it, hooking them up to machines to keep them alive long enough for their loved ones to decide what to do, how to cope, how to wrap their brains around what has already happened and yet is seemingly prolonged by "life-saving measures." And we count the drips, do our math, hook it all up, plug it all in, warm this, ice that, knowing all the while that the person connected to it all is now just a body; the person is gone, the essence of that human being is irretrievably lost.
But we do it anyway, because people need it. The living need it.
There are days I'm floored by how easy it is to speak to people on their own level, to relate to so many different walks of life.
There are days I'm shocked by how wrong we all were, by how much an allergic reaction can look like a heart attack, how easy it could be to be presumptuous, to make a decision, to do one thing or fail to do one thing that makes all the difference in the world to those who sit in the chairs in the room, looking at us with that helpless stare, asking what this or that number means, asking what happens next, when we are no more in control of the situation than they are, and we're watching those numbers flip just as closely.
There are days the docs challenge me to learn something I didn't know; there are days I wish they'd just give me the orders and give my brain a rest. There are days we teach them something they didn't know, and we nurses celebrate those moments - the moments in which we become We instead of Them and Us.
There are days I feel respected and smart; there are days I feel like I'm stomping through water, my knees lifting achingly, hopefully toward open air for the freedom and lack of pressure to simply take another step, to move forward, forward, forward.
There are days I'm grateful we're able to speak to people frankly, and days I'd do better to remember proper adjectives.
There are days I wonder where the rest of my life went - my child, my personal life, my outside interests - and know the people around me are thinking the same, and that we've all made the decision to be here, together, in this room, cracking ribs, emptying catheter bags into specimen containers, filling tubes and jars with blood and spit, writing orders that mean the continued or ending life of someone's sister, someone's dad, and I wonder what the hell is wrong with all of us that we've chosen to do this, to be here.
It's still, a year later, one foot in front of the other. Baby steps to the elevator, literally. I drive to work in silence - no radio, no CDs - because I know the next 10 hours will be nothing but sound and suffering. I take deep breaths and revel in the silence, trying to make myself feel at one with the traffic around me. Lockstep. Part of a bigger picture.
I can't fix the health care system. I can't make your wait any shorter; it's not in my power to give you health insurance and a primary care physician and the money to pay for such.
It is in my power to tell you that your diet of McDonald's and Parliaments is not conducive to improving your current state of health (or lack of).
It is in my power to tell you that doing cocaine, even just once a week, for years on end is what has led to your ongoing bouts of chest pain and shortness of breath.
It is in my power to tell you that this is an Emergency Room and if you are not having an Emergency (defined as Risk of Loss of Life, Limb, or Eyesight), then you'll have to wait.
And it is in my power to tell you that I'm no better than you are, that I smoke and drink and fuck and swear and make mistakes just like you do. I just happen to understand the consequences, biologically, a littler more clearly. Do I make better decisions with this knowledge? Not always. So let's figure it out together.
Most importantly, it is in my power to be here, to learn more, to grow. A year ago, I never thought I'd have the privilege of working in the environment I've grown to love so much, in spite (and because) of its challenges.
Yet, here we are.
Are you kidding me?