I am now a retired nurse. My years of working 12-hour shifts without a break are over. For me, the path of being a caregiver began years before putting on my nurse’s cap and has lasted long after my nursing cap was put to rest. Personally, I miss seeing nurses looking official and distinguished in white.
My desire to be a nurse began when I was only three years old with a trip to the emergency room. The nurses and the doctor treated me with concern and were very kind as I received nine stitches. I still have the scar but the memory of their kindness is engraved in my mind and heart with more permanence than the scar that is engraved on my scalp.
Not long after my experience in the ER there is another time which has left an image in my mind. That of an old man sick in his bed in a little old house that was not much more than a shack and my mother giving him food to eat and my standing at the edge of his bed watching her attend to his needs. This old man was our neighbor. After he died his little old house was torn down and new homes were built in its place. The world forgot about him and his little house but as a child I remembered him. I remembered the kindness that my mother had shown to him. I remembered his needs and my wishing that I knew how to make him well. I wanted to learn how to make people well. This desire has stayed with me.
There are numerous other experiences dealing with health and people between those early experiences and my becoming a nurse. The experience that sealed my choice in becoming a nurse was the events surrounding my grandfather’s death. He was a farmer and like many farmers he used DDT on his farm. My grandmother would often tell him to change his clothes after spraying but back then people had little concern about the harm of chemicals. When he was only in his sixties he became very ill. I watched as a strong healthy man gradually became only a pale form under hospital sheets. By this time I was seventeen and was a help to my family in the care of my grandfather. He would ask for me when I was not there, he referred to me as his nurse, his only good nurse.
After my grandfather died I became a candy striper in the local hospital. For me helping people who were ill was the most important thing that I could do. As a candy striper my duties involved giving the patients fresh ice water to drink, clean towels in their bathroom, a newspaper to read, delivering their meal trays or a snack, and taking them their flowers from the florist.
My next step up in the medical field was that of a nurse’s aide. Back then the training for being a nurse’s aide was on the job. There were no CNA courses in my area. As a nurse’s aide my duties involved the daily patient care, bathing, changing beds, emptying bedpans and urinals, and assisting the patient in any non-medical needs. I found the position of nurse’s aide to be physically demanding and to have long hours. However I found that the task of meeting the needs of my patients was very rewarding. I enjoyed working as a team with the nurses and other aides. Putting the patient first regardless of whether they were my assignment or not was my priority.
I entered training to be a nurse soon after high school. Learning medical terms, procedures, protocol, and ethics of nursing was mentally stimulating. I liked how the medical words sounded. Having hands on experiences to learn new procedures was exiting, especially when as students we were required to practice on each other. Then on the day that I first attended clinic a whole new world opened up, that of being a student nurse in a hospital. I couldn’t get enough experience. I volunteered to help with everything and everyone. There is something special about being a student nurse. I think it was the fact that I was giving of myself to help my fellowman without expecting pay for my work. I was young, full of energy and vitality, ready to serve where ever and however I was asked to. I have to admit that the student nurse uniform was a little strange, a pinstriped blue.
Graduating and being able to wear my nursing pin and cap were special to me. I have never regretted fulfilling the dream of the little girl of years ago who desired to help people get well.