An RN, unintentionally

“You take your material where you can find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present. The memory traffic feeds into a rotary up on your head where is goes in circles for a while, then pretty soon imagination flows in and the traffic merges and shoots off in down a thousand different streets. As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting down things as they come at you. That’s the real obsession. All those stories.”

-Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

What I have found in nursing, is that there are stories everywhere and I can’t not write them down. Medicine is drama unscripted and I, at the bedside in the hospital, am the unprepared audience or an unrehearsed player. I never know when a normal day, a normal situation can spiral towards disaster or evolve into a miracle. I often feel like a voyeur, knowing the intimate details of my patients’ bodies and maladies, their family secrets and tragedies, and also the function and dysfunction the world’s most expensive health care system. Miracles, tragedies, extraordinary people, extraordinary odds, even the mundanities. Each time I’m certain I’ve seen it all, something new happens. I’ll never have seen it all.

I don’t understand why more nurses don’t write. The professions lends itself to the telling of tales but it usually stops with gossip in the back room, or those stories that start with “This one time…”. For myself, I can’t comprehend how the extremes we undergo become normal to us. That’s really what I’m trying to work through. It doesn’t matter how my times we try to resuscitate a man who will die despite our trying, I rage against the trying. Each time I take away life support or roll a patient to the morgue, I’m struck by the brazenness of I’m doing.  How can I counsel and comfort an anguished husband who is going to stop treatment on his wife? Since when am I, a human being, qualified to prolong a life or aid in a peaceful death? When I help a family navigate a difficult situation, I think, this is my job, and this is their life. How can I walk into this drama, partake, and go home? The moment that will scar this patient forever is merely what I’m getting paid to do.

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