My head snaps up, and I realize that I must have fallen asleep again. Rubbing my dry eyes, I begin reading the chapter on bone tissue. A friend told me once, “When people ask me why I’m always tired, I just answer, ‘I’m a nursing student.’ And you know what? I’ve never had to explain that answer. Believe me, girl. It all just gets harder.” Of course she was right, but experiencing it for myself seemed to put what she said into perspective. Thinking back to why I decided to do this, I know that every last struggle is worth it.
Like any other junior in high school, I thought that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. For years, the idea of doing anything other than music had never crossed my mind. My piano teacher, Mrs. N, was working me harder than ever and planning my audition pieces for different colleges. Then there was my flute teacher, Mrs. W, who was still rejoicing at my much-needed upgrade to a professional flute. Practice- time requirements grew longer, and flute sonatas became purer and faster. I was all too sure that there was nothing stopping me from achieving a major in piano with a minor in flute-performance.
During that summer, I was encouraged to be more active in the community. I decided to volunteer at our local hospital, Unity. I would not have minded the position they offered me in the gift shop, but I knew that the best way for me to meet people and reach out would be where care was given. I cringed and shuddered at the thought of being exposed to the smallest abnormal or unhealthy thing.
But before I could even take the next step and nail down which wing I wished to volunteer in, my cousin N fell sick. (Being that we are so close in age, it was natural that we had become the closest of friends.) After some questioning of whether or not she was sick enough to go to the doctor, her condition took a turn for the worse. Later that day, I heard that the appointment had turned into a visit to the operating table. Her appendix had ruptured, and she was fortunate that the doctor was able to get it out before it killed her. I begged my parents for a ride, bought flowers on the way, and rushed to her hospital room.
For the next few days, I was with her as much as I was able to be. The doctor made it very clear that had she not gotten in when she had, we would have lost her. (It was so hard to imagine that my teenage cousin could have been lost!) Anytime that she needed help, she asked for me. She hated to be this vulnerable, and continuously mourned her need for things like a catheter. It felt so new for me to be someone wanted as a caregiver. But during this new delight of being needed, something else felt like it was clicking into place.
One afternoon, as I sat on her bed with her and watched a movie she had picked out; a nurse came in and emptied what her catheter bag. Usually, I had to turn away from this. My cousin thanked the nurse and sighed. Looking at me, she asked, “Jenny, when you volunteer at the hospital, will you empty other people’s bags?” I told her that I didn’t think so, since volunteers were not involved in direct medical procedures or things like that.
I got up and patted the pillows into place after handing her ice chips to her. She studied me for a moment and said, “You know, Jenny… I was thinking how there are so many people out there sicker than I am. I need this much care, and I’m sure they need even more. To think, emptying a bag like that makes a huge difference. It’s so small, but it’s a step that’s needed for me to get better.”
I slowly sat down again. She soon fell asleep, and I watched her as I thought about what she had said. Little things like emptying that bag, washing her face, even braiding her hair – they were all simple things that meant so much. Each action showed care for her. I thought of all the other N’s that were in the world. Each one needed love and care in order to become whole again. There were children who were sick, teenagers in the prime of youth, elderly with wisdom that is only obtained from experience. Each one needed care, and sometimes that care was more than a mother or friend could offer.
N’s IV clicked on interval as the morphine drip steadily provided her with some small relief from her discomfort. I grabbed her hand and held it. It was because of the doctors and nurses that we still had her. It was because of them that we had her on her road to full recovery. These people were counted on. These nurses were not only expected to provide medical care, but were also needed to provide each patient with tenderness and emotional stability.
At that moment, as she opened her eyes and smiled at me, I knew what I really and truly wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be the person that she could depend on for her care, love, and physical needs. I wanted to do that for any person that needed it. There were times, I knew, that would require me to grow in immeasurable ways. I would see things that would make me light headed. Playing the flute with calluses? Sore wrists from hours at the piano? They were nothing compared to what I knew I would have to overcome. Being a nurse required more work and motivation from me than any concerto or prelude.
Warmth filled me as I realized that what I wanted to do had changed. Now, it was not even just a want. It was a desire that filled me. It was a desire to help people. It was the desire to be there and give people the treatment that they needed to live a normal and healthy life.
N yawned and asked, “So where do you want to volunteer at Unity Hospital?” I smiled back and said, “I think I’ll check out the Emergency Room. They probably need some help there.” She beamed at me and said something that I will never forget, “I always thought you would make a good nurse.”
She had realized it before I had.
For those of you who read this before, yes it has obviously been edited. With the help and recommendations of a friend, the majority of the icky mistakes have been taken care of. My Professor recommended that I add something (or replace) to the introduction to let people know that I have gone through with what I learned.