When I was nearing graduation from nursing school three years ago, Rob gave me a book called “I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse.” The book is filled with essays written by nurses about their experiences when they began their careers, and I was inspired by it three years ago as I considered the daunting prospect of finding my first nursing job. It resonated with me because, as a new nurse, there was a built-in feeling of inadequacy -- at least for me. Maybe other people graduate from nursing school feeling like they have it all figured out, but I don’t know any of those people.
Three years later, I am a few months into my first acute-care job at a medical hospital. A prestigious one. One that little community hospitals send their patients to when they need a higher level of care. One that you probably want to send your family to if they ever get really, really sick.
So, ya know, it’s not intimidating or anything for someone who constantly worries that she’s not good enough for this.
I’ve learned a lot at this hospital. I know how to stick people for labs and start IVs, how to do wound care on a stage four pressure ulcer, how to manage a feeding tube. I’ve seen more urine and feces than I care to talk about. I’ve looked at a living person’s brain, and I’ve touched a person’s bone while it’s still in their body.
And yet, I don’t feel strong enough.
A few weeks ago, I started re-reading that book Rob gave me, looking for some magical formula for feeling “strong” -- or at least a glimpse of myself in these other nurses’ stories. And it just … wasn’t there. The book is still good. I can identify with some of the moments these other nurses describe, and a couple of the stories have made me tear up. But the “aha” moment I wanted didn’t appear.
My biggest fear is, now and always, that I will make a mistake that harms someone.
Emergencies have happened on my watch. I’ve had to call a “rapid response” -- which is when you call in reinforcements because something is going very wrong with your patient but s/he still has a pulse and is breathing -- on a few people. And every single time, I have agonized for days afterward. Did I do something wrong? Could I have intervened sooner? Did I call for help fast enough? Once I called for help, did I carry out the doctor’s orders fast enough? Would this patient have fared better if s/he had had a stronger nurse?
After every rapid response, I have an intense stress reaction in which I cry in front of coworkers and then feel stupid for crying in front of coworkers. And every time, I have to take a few minutes to pull myself together. I drink some water. I pace in the break room. I take some deep breaths. Then I get back to work.
I still need that recovery time after every rapid response. But I’ve noticed that I recover a little faster each time. I'm not strong yet, but I’m working on it.