Writing a nursing blog has been an enlightening experience to say the least. One of the things that was the biggest shift in thinking for me, sort of in tandem with my nursing career, was the realization that not only am I going to never live up to my own expectations, but I am especially never going to be able to live up to the expectations that the average person in the public has of me.
Let me explain. I distinctly remember the first time I actually got so mad at a patient that the thought entered my head that I wanted to hurt them. I feel ashamed to admit that I've thought that way even now. I found it extremely distressing at the time. Here I was, supposed to be helping this girl, regardless of the fact that she was beyond rude, regardless of the fact that she was non-compliant to the point of being spiteful, beyond the fact that she was obviously drug seeking, I was supposed to be helping her and ZOMG I am thinking about kicking her ass and I have failed as a nurse and a person FOREVER. The only reason I didn't quit at the end of the shift was my charge nurse that night. She is an incredibly hard working, sweet, and fabulous nurse who I look up to immensely. The type of person anyone would love to have taking care of their family member. And when I broke down into tears and told her all the shit that had gone down with this patient, her response? "Whatever. What a dumb whore."
I could have hugged her. Not for agreeing with me in my assessment that this patient was awful but in unknowingly confirming that just about everyone, even the most kind hearted and badass of all nurses, sometimes feel this way about patients.
And when you think about it logically, and objectively, it makes sense. Yes, nursing is a calling, but shit, yes, it's also a JOB. Who at their job has not dealt with someone completely insufferable and thought to themselves for a second, "Dude, if it were you and me in a dark alley outside of this, I would totally kick you in the teeth." Well, yeah. It happens to us too. Actually, probably a lot more than in the general population, because the level of bullshit that people have figured out they can get away with in healthcare is beyond just about anywhere else. I certainly never had anyone pretend to have a seizure to get their meal comped when I was waiting tables.
Yeah, we care about people, and we want to help, but also like anywhere else, we sometimes we deal with people that are genuinely awful human beings and we recognize this quality in them and dislike them for it. Sometimes there are days where we see nothing but this. Other days it clouds our vision to make it the only thing we can see. Sometimes we get in the mindset that just about everyone is full of shit and any effort we put forth is pointless because it will just go unappreciated anyway, because some days it really isn't far from the truth. It's really soul crushing and defeating when you get into a field because you want to make a human connection and reach out and help someone and so many of the people you reach out to lie and shit all over you. It's kind of like when you make bad relationship choices and you keep falling in love with manipulative assholes- eventually you put up a wall and you distrust almost everyone because you're so tired of being lied to. It probably sounds really weird and co-dependent to talk about it that way, but we're supposed to be giving our all to these patients. Some of us really do, or at least did at some point. When you realize you gave a piece of your soul to someone who was playing you, it really does wound you.
So we compensate and build defense mechanisms. We say mean things about the people who have hurt us. We make fun of the approaches they use to try and play us. We learn to disbelieve people, not only to protect ourselves, put to learn to prioritize and do our jobs safely. We pride ourselves on seeing through it all, even if maybe we shouldn't feel that way. We do this publicly, on our anonymous blogs and forums. And people find it disturbing and gross.
Why wouldn't they? Yeah, some people outside of this profession can put themselves in our shoes or are close enough to someone in the profession to understand. But the vast majority of people who see it from the outside think we are just bad apples in a profession full of mini Florence Nightingales. Again, why wouldn't they? In a lot of ways, we in the nursing profession have done this to ourselves. I remember them talking about this in nursing school. How proudly they taught us about how we were the most trusted profession in the U.S., year after year. They even sort of alluded to the massive PR machine that is the nursing profession as it is represented by various nursing organizations when they talked about nurses seeing the show Nightingales and being like, "this makes us look like whores, shut it down, y'all". And they made it happen. It's not an accident that the public expects us to be blameless, holy creatures. We, as a profession, perpetuate this stereotype ourselves. We not only sell it to the public, we sell it to ourselves and our young.
They don't teach you to expect the type of awful feelings we sometimes have in nursing school. They tell you about the hurt and loss of having a patient die, but they never tell you about the hurt and loss you feel within yourself when you commit yourself to helping someone that you later realize was manipulating you. They never tell you that somedays you'll be so tired of doing what you're doing that the thought of going to work makes you feel like crying or makes you nauseous. They never tell you about being lied to, or how much that sucks, and they never tell you about the guilt you'll feel when you think someone was lying and it turns out you were wrong. They talk about burnout in passing, like it's something you can stop and change. Like it's a completely internal force. Like it's a storm you can pass through unchanged, when in reality you come out of it a little tougher, for better and for worse.
I hope this doesn't come across as a pity party or that I'm making excuses for myself or my profession. I'm still absolutely freaking in love with what I do and it makes me physically ill to think about what I will do the day that I can't go to work and make sick people smile and make anxious people calm. Despite the parts that I hate, I love the parts that I love so dearly that I would brave just about any amount of bullshit to still be able to do it. When I question whether it's worth doing what I do, the answer is always a resounding "yes"- I just wish that someone had told me I was going to be asking myself that question.
We already have such a difficult job. Why do we torture ourselves with setting our expectations and standards beyond anything any of us can obtain? Why do we teach those we'll be taking care of to expect the same from us? Why do we set ourselves up to be disappointed in ourselves, and others to be disappointed in us?
We are not angels or saints. We are women and men who do a really tough ass job to the best of our ability. It's about time to start matching our expectations up with reality.