Coming home after the second of two 12-hour shifts is a special kind of weary. Not only does the body rebel after that much labor—especially, let’s face it, on the weekend—but the mind and heart are just about tapped out too. It’s good tired, though. All the emotional fluctuations of the day were copacetically matched with hard physical labor, keeping a sustainable balance between attention and fatigue. Good vegetarian food from the cafeteria, strong coffee to combat the afternoon slump and a peaceful drive home in the dark all add up to deliver me home in a near-perfect state of fuzzy, peaceful happiness. A glass of wine, a fuzzy bathrobe and a warm bed? Heaven.
Tomorrow I have to switch gears and resume my weekday lower-middle-management job. But for tonight, I share a bond with every nurse in the world who worked a shift today. For tonight my tender feet and aching back unite me across years and miles with the countless women who have tended the sick since time immemorial. As my thoughts gradually slow and coalesce towards sleep, the faces of my patients float before my eyes and I hold them in my mind, repeating their names silently as I wish them well and let them go. It’s a ritual I share with many nurses, one of many ways we try to keep our hearts open and honor those we are privileged to serve. Tomorrow, next week, next month, there will be other patients who need us. But for tonight, it’s just these ones that we celebrate and call by name, the querulous, demanding, confusing, complicated, beloved crew that held the reins of our attention from dawn til nightfall.
The best-kept secret of nursing is that we benefit far more than our patients do from the exercise of our profession. By caring for others, by putting our personalities and intellects and hearts at the service of needs more immediate than our own, we reap the rewards of expanding our selves to include the existence and meaning of others. We walk our paths with a little deeper understanding, a little more compassion, maybe even a little more tenderness towards the human race. And we are blessed with the gratitude of those whose pain we are privileged to ease, whose fears we are allowed to comfort. When our private worlds are complicated by the host of dramas and obstacles that life can throw at us, we have that to hold on to. We can console ourselves that between waking up and falling asleep we were able to do something truly useful. Overworked, exhausted, cranky, frustrated though we may be, at least we managed to step up to a challenge worth facing. And while we can’t work miracles, any nurse can tell you that there are days when the great mysteries swirl around us and we recognize that we are playing a part in the greatest drama of all.
In a few minutes I will be sound asleep, and when I wake up this day will be only a memory. I’m proud and grateful to have been a bedside nurse today, and I am already looking forward to the next time I work a hospital shift. These long, weary days replenish my soul even as they make my feet hurt and my ankles swell. I tip my hat to the nurses and nursing assistants who share them with me, and to the patients who make the entire thing worthwhile. I am honored to be one of your company.
©Mary Braden 2013