It’s Nurse’s Week 2020 and I can’t think of a better time to write about what my nursing career means to me. While I am no longer practicing because of illness, I still subscribe to the adage, “Once a nurse, always a nurse.” It’s a truth that has followed me throughout my life and the knowledge that I’ve gleaned over the years is something that I fondly share with others, especially my adult daughter.
When I was an infant, my aunt purchased a small pink toy that she thought I would adore. It was a squeaky nurse doll, with rosy cheeks and pursed red lips. In one hand, she held a syringe, while the other was lifted in a fond sign of greeting. Mom said that it was one of my favorite toys throughout my toddler years. Years later, she gave it to me for Nurse’s Week with a comment that I was always meant to be a nurse.
My best friend Michael lived across the street from my childhood home and he often called on me to come over to his home for a rousing game of War. Michael and Tommy filled the roles of soldiers in battle, while I was the field nurse who offered them a “shot” of antibiotic to get them back on the “front lines.” My “syringe” was nothing more than a sycamore twig, but in my mind, it held sacred power to restore health. I never dreamed that life would imitate our play in the future.
My original career choice had been journalism when I entered high school. Nursing was the furthest thing from my mind, although my first shot at employment was as secretary of Division Avenue’s Health Office. I learned about charting, eye exams, scoliosis exams and the importance of documenting immunizations. I learned what style of nursing was best, and I also learned that, if I ever chose the path, I would never be “the mean nurse.” After graduation, I began a path of soul searching that finally led me to SUNY Farmingdale’s nursing program. When I graduated and stood onstage to be “pinned,” I caught a glimpse of my dad, whose face glowed brighter than any of the flashbulbs that had been set off in the room by other proud parents as they photographed their children. I was the kid who was “afraid of the sight of blood,” according to Dad and this career choice told him that I’d finally conquered my demons.
I was blessed with a wealth of experience throughout my career, which ranged from surgical nurse to home care nurse to Hicksville High School’s nurse to emergency room nursing, with a sprinkle of supervisory and management experience on the side. Every moment taught me something, from compassion and empathy to critical thinking and how to save myself time during report. Every nurse who touched my life opened my mind to greater things that helped me to hone my craft. I read, I listened, I took courses to better myself for the care of those who were unable to care for themselves. Knowledge is a blessing and I considered myself to be truly blessed.
Several years back, a well-known talk show host blasted the nursing career, specifically one contestant of a pageant who had used her nursing career as a highlight throughout the competition. I was never more furious, for nurses are some of the hardest working people on the planet. Nursing is certainly not for the faint of heart, and the career itself can be back-breaking, heart-breaking and soul crushing at once, especially amid the coronavirus crisis. While many are overworked to the point of mental and physical exhaustion, if you were to ask them if they would choose nursing as a livelihood, you can bet your bottom dollar that they would do it all over again. Nursing isn’t just a career. Nursing is a way of life.
This year, Nurse’s Day and Nurse’s Week take on a whole new meaning for those who care for others at the expense of their own health. Many members of the community have taken to their sewing machines to create masks and headbands for those on the front lines, while others have offered free meals and goody bags to offer cheer and good will. The next time you need hospital care, please remember to thank your nurse (and ancillary staff). You never know how much a simple word of gratitude can uplift a weary spirit.
Patty Servidio is an Anton Media Group columnist.