At time of writing I am in my PJ’s. Sitting in my Airbnb. My hair is greasy, I haven’t put on deodorant, and my leg hair is about an inch long. I am on a solo journey, in a tiny little town in southern Czech Republic, Ceský Krumlov, and am having the time of my life. But that’s not where this story starts. This story starts with being a NICU nurse.
My story starts…
To back track, I have been a nurse for four years. Truthfully, I never ever had the desire to be a nurse. I didn’t understand the profession, and was so grossly misinformed. I thought I was going to medical school. The day I started college I came to the conclusion… HELL NO. Then I thought I was going to PA school. I studied Biology and even took the GRE. My friend, who is WAY smarter than me, and also a year ahead of me applied to PA school and didn’t get in. So I gave it up. And in hindsight I would have never made a good PA if I was willing to give it up so easily.
So as I senior in college I was about to graduate with a Biology degree. I had no future plans. I had zero clue what I wanted to do. And I thought, “Well crap”. How do I get any sort of decent job with the random degree of Biology? So then I thought, “Ehhh might as well apply to nursing school!” (If you’re a nurse and still reading, you might be ticked off at this point. But stick with me!).
With a degree in Biology and no clue what to do…
So that’s exactly what I did. I applied to the accelerated program at Emory University – and got in! Apparently, which I did not know at the time, I applied to a program that BRIDGED into the masters. So I would be getting my BSN in 15-months, and instead of going to work I’d be going straight into my masters which would take another 12-36 months depending on which specialty I chose. I went to new student orientation with a big grin on my face, and sat there asking everyone… “So are you here to be a nurse or to get your masters?” Not knowing that in fact I was on track to be getting my own masters. In fact, I didn’t realize this fun fact until I had finished my first semester of nursing school! Insert – palm to face.
I hated nursing school…
To put it mildly, I HATED nursing school. I thought that it was boring and lame. I didn’t understand why I had to do these silly case study reports (honestly I still don’t understand that part). Or why the NCLEX asked me questions like – “If someone is lacking Vitamin C what food should they eat?”… Really NCLEX? To reiterate, I hated nursing school.
That was until….
The accelerated program at Emory lasted for 15-months. It wasn’t until I was in month nine that I felt like I was in the right place. Month nine was the month that I stepped foot in to the NICU for the first time. On accident. In fact, I was never supposed to go there. I was supposed to be in L&D but somehow numbers were screwy and I was the odd one out and someone had the bright idea to say, “Maybe she should try the NICU?” I rolled my eyes and thought… babies? Gross. But okay…. I guess? Oh how that day changed my life.
The NICU has taught me STRENGTH…
The NICU has taught me so many life lessons that have made me the person I am today. I have been taught STRENGTH from NICU parents. To be growing a life inside of you, dreaming and planning for its future, and then to have it ripped away from you? To be sitting on the couch, 23-weeks pregnant, and all the sudden be in labor? Can you imagine what kind of fear that creates?
But then… to nurture your baby through an isolette. To spend hours in the NICU where you can’t touch your baby, can’t speak loudly (some NICUs don’t even allow you to be on your phone), and sometimes can’t even see your baby due to the blanket covering the isolette. You’re living for the moments of “hands on”. Be it every three or every four hours. When you can touch your baby. Change their diaper. Take their temperature. But in between those moments? The thoughts that must be going through those parents’ heads. Thoughts of, “I should still be pregnant.” “If one more person tells me that at least I didn’t gain any weight I will lose it on them.” “Was it something I ate?” “Was it that hot bath that I took two days ago?” “What is this child’s future going to look like?” NICU parents have taught me strength.
The NICU has taught me VULNERABILITY…
I have been taught VULNERABILITY from NICU parents. To lose all sense of control but to still show up and be present – THAT is vulnerability. To stand at the bedside realizing that you don’t know anything. And you are completely reliant on those around you. Praying that they are making the right decision for your child because you in fact don’t know what the right decision is. That is vulnerability.
The NICU has taught me COMPASSION…
I have been taught COMPASSION. As nurses… we screw up. And if you’re a nurse reading this thinking, “Not me!” Then you my friend are the problem, and what we normal nurses refer to as “the scary nurse”. I have had a LOT of screw-ups. But this particular one sticks with me.
I was still on orientation, which means I was pretty much clueless. I was taking care of a baby who was GA 27 weeks, corrected to 28. Which means that mom’s milk had just started coming in. Side note – you NICU moms are the real deal. You guys pump and pump. Sometimes without seeing more than a drop for an entire week! You set your alarm for every three hours. Wake up at times that nobody should be awake. You attach that medela pump to your breasts and let it do its thing. And when you get a drop, you smile, and we praise you. Because we know how hard you worked for that.
I was taking care of a 28-weeker. She had an OG tube and was receiving 5ml of EBM q3hrs. In this particular NICU we would put the milk in a syringe, attach it to the OG tube (after checking placement, of course), and use tape to hang it from the top of the isolette letting gravity pull the milk in to the stomach. In this particular case I did not tape the syringe well enough. And the 5ml of EBM that mom worked so hard for, was suddenly all over the baby’s face. And of course, Mom was standing there watching this all unfold.
I looked up at her, wanting to die and also wanting her to know that I realize what just happened was not ok. I wanted to say, “You worked SO hard for that. And instead of being in your 28-week baby’s belly it is instead all over her face. And I am SO sorry and I wish I could take back time and be more careful.” But instead, because I was brand new, I just looked up at her and tried not to cry. She realized that I had screwed up. And instead of yelling and crying or asking for the manager, she just looked at me and nodded. And said, “Okay. It’s okay.” Parents have taught me compassion.
How wrong I was…
How wrong I was about being a nurse. Being a nurse is strength. It’s power and trust. It’s forgiveness and a shoulder to cry on. Being a nurse is being a therapist in someone’s most vulnerable moments. It’s more than wiping ass or throwing out the trash. Being a nurse is being the heart and soul of the hospital.
So while I’m in Ceský Krumlov, having the time of my life. Here I am reminiscing on my career as a nurse. And while I’ve been away from the bedside for eight-weeks now, I can’t help but think WOW. Nursing has taught me so much. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
For more on what nursing has given me, read Nursing Has Allowed Me to