My heart is feeling both broken and full at the same time tonight, and I'm having trouble spitting out the words. But I'm going to try.
I'll never forget the moment I knew I wanted to be a nurse. I wasn't like the other students in my class. I had classmates who told me they knew from the time they were a little girl they wanted to be in scrubs with a stethoscope around their neck. When I was little, I wanted to be two things: an author, and the fastest woman in the world. I had never once considered something in the medical field. And getting to college and beginning as a graphic design major, my eyes were still far from looking down that road. After switching my major a few more times than the average student, all I knew was that my interests were all over the map. But one thing led to the next.
I began volunteering for Primary Children's Hospital as a music volunteer. Each Sunday after church, I carried my guitar up to the third floor and sat at the piano to play. I'd switch between the keys and my strings, playing some of my favorite tunes. When I felt a titch of extra bravery, I'd sing. It was the occasional passerby who would sit to listen. As I flooded the third floor with music each week, I kept seeing other volunteers wearing red shirts, and I began to look into other ways I could volunteer my time there. The place seemed to intrigue me and I felt something special there. It was different from other hospitals I had been to.
Before I knew it, I had joined the "red-shirts" and I found myself in the playroom with patients on Wednesday mornings: putting on "hospital-wide B-I-N-G-O", delivering prizes to their rooms, and getting some one-on-one time with the kids who walked their IV poles to the playroom for crafts and games.
There was one particular morning when I really didn't feel like being there. I felt sluggish and tired. I had sleep to catch up on, homework had been piling up, and I didn't feel like I was interacting with anyone or making a difference that day. I dragged my feet the whole six flights of stairs, and felt the weight of all the books in my backpack that needed attention. It had only been a few minutes, when my supervisor got a call from a nurse in the PICU. She asked if there was "anyone who happened to play the guitar in the playroom, who could come play for a patient." My eyes lit up as I told her I played. I said I'd be right down. I hurried and grabbed the capo out of my backpack in the office, and made my way to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. When the double doors opened, I was surprised to see so many rooms; most with curtains drawn, and others wide open where I could see the patients surrounded by their families behind the glass; most faces looked sad and worried, and a few seemed to be doing okay. I gripped my guitar as I reached the end of the hall. That's when I entered her room. And that's when I saw something unexpected.
Still to this day, I don't know anything about this girl or what had happened to her, but she was violently shaking in the bed, almost seizure-like. Her small body shook from head to toe, her mouth hung wide open with drool on the pillow next to her, and her eyes were fixated on the ceiling. My eyes connected quickly with her mother, who kindly pulled up a stool for me to sit on next to the bed. In a sullen tone she told me, "Thank you for coming. She hasn't stopped shaking since she's been here, but she loves the guitar more than anything in this world. Could you play?"
I sat on the squeaky stool and strapped the capo on, while taking a deep breath. I was nervous. I didn't know what I would sing, but there was one song in particular that came to me almost instantly: "I Think of You." It was a song written by Sophie Rose Barton, a beautiful 17 year-old girl my younger brother's age who had tragically passed away the year before, in high school. I had learned it after her passing and knew it by memory.
The second I began to strum and sing, a calming wave swept over her shaking frame and she went entirely still. And through my tears that came in response, I knew she could hear me. She was listening. I could hear her mother crying from the opposite corner of the room, and I kept singing.
I don't know if it was just coincidence or not, but I left that room knowing I had to be there that day, for that patient. And as I walked away, I knew my heart was telling me it wasn't just that girl who I needed to be there for. There were other kids who needed me there. They needed me the same way she did. And nursing school was going to get me there.
Let me tell you about what it means to be a nurse, and certain experiences I have had while having to earn/wear that badge.
I will never forget the time I watched a doctor stand at the edge of a bed and tell a family that their child had a new and terminal diagnosis; the sight of their hands tightened each other's grip and eyes falling to the floor. I really hope they felt the weight and love of my hug that afternoon, as I whispered "I'm so sorry," into that mother's ear. I meant it.
I will never forget watching an adult woman finish throwing up on the cold bathroom floor of her dimly-lit room after receiving chemotherapy, and grasping the sink as she stared into the mirror. "Who could love me, looking like this?" she had whispered. I was there. And I loved her.
I will never forget sitting with a young women who had attempted to jump off the 3rd story of a building and to her dismay, had survived. Through the only eye she had left, she looked at me and said, "Why would anyone care?" to which I responded, "Because you're worth it." Because she was.
I will never forget the homeless teenager I had cared for all day: his worn-out clothes and only pair of rugged shoes stuffed in a "belongings bag" in the corner of his room. He was brought in by a man who found him nearly unconscious and sick beneath a bridge. I had sat at the edge of his bed with all the love I could muster, and watched him scarf down all the food I brought to his bedside table. I listened to his worries and fears, and learned of his deep devotion and love to his family, who remained on the streets. I'll never forget the scared look in his eyes as the policeman entered his room putting his wrists in handcuffs. Even though I knew he had been wanted by the police and would be receiving more help, I couldn't help but close the bathroom door behind me and cry into my hands. I believed in him. I prayed for him. I still pray for him.
I will never forget the day I witnessed CPR on a young child for the first time. I watched the young mother crumble down the wall in shock. Could this be her child who was sitting in the car with her just moments before? That mother walked out her door that morning holding two pairs of hands, and left the hospital that day empty-handed. She lost both her beautiful girls in the accident. I cried like a baby the entire drive home. I was there. And oh how I wished I could've better expressed my love for her.
I will never forget the baby who had been neglected and abused. We all took turns holding him at the nurses station throughout the night. As I rocked him and stroked his forehead with my finger, I will never forget the smile on his face. I've never seen a new baby smile as much as this one, and I wondered if it's because it was the only love he had ever felt from someone so far. I snuck a kiss on his tiny forehead when I tucked him back into bed before I left. And now I wonder about him, and how he's doing. Is someone loving him the way he should be loved?
I will never forget the mother with twins, who lost one unexpectedly in the morning from a life-threatening respiratory virus. I was the nurse who took care of the twin who had survived, that afternoon. As I sat there listening to the child's breaths, the mother sat across from me with tear-stained cheeks. She closed her eyes and whispered, "How did this happen? We were just watching Frozen last night together as a family. I don't understand." I usually have the right words to say. But in that moment, I didn't. Instead, I buried her head in my shoulder and we both shared our tears together.
Those are moments you never forget.
Some say angels walk those halls. And I believe them.
As a nurse, you have this sacred opportunity to take a step into one's most vulnerable moment; and almost share it with them in a way. It's something I can't adequately describe in writing, but it's the most beautiful thing I've ever been able to take part of. It softened every piece of my heart, it sanded any rough edges of judgement I used to have, and it has been an integral part of who I have become and what kind of person I always hope to be.
Today was my last day working as a nurse at Primary Children's Hospital. I took a moment to walk through the building toward the end of my shift, and take it all in. So many memories there. I've loved my time as a nurse in the hospital, but I'm leaving it to chase some other dreams for a bit... dreams that involve you and this community here. Leaving something that has shaped and challenged me in every way, has been more difficult than I imagined. I've truly spent countless hours, not to mention 6 years of college at the University of Utah, to achieve that dream of becoming a registered nurse. I'm forever grateful for my degree. I will always keep up my certification, so I can hop right back in if I need to. And there will probably come a time later on in life when I'll go back. But for now, I'm taking some steps in another direction and hoping for the best. I want to thank all of YOU for your support in this big decision, and for believing in me to continue to do what I love most... and that's to be here with YOU, teaching, encouraging, motivating, and adventuring.
To close this note to nurses, let me stand by you and wrap my heart around you.
Thank you for working those long shifts, even when your legs ache and your eyes are bone-dry. Thank you for patience, for your concern, for your willingness to fight for what is right and good in the world, for your love, your knowledge, and your courage.
You are the heartbeat of healthcare.
And just when you know each patient you come across needs you in order to heal, what you'll actually come to realize is that you, in fact, needed them too.
All my love to nurses everywhere.