My life’s {paid} work..

For much more than half my life, I have been a nurse.  I have worked through the night; been awake for days on end without sleep, worked shifts starting at 7 am, or 10pm, or 7pm or 3pm, and developed an immunity to the effects of caffeine (but still abuse the magical powers of coffee!!).

Being a nurse is as much a part of me as being mother is.  It is part of what makes me ‘me’.  I have witnessed some amazing events, some humbling ones, and some incredibly horrific ones.  I have laughed, I have cried, and have experienced just about everything else in between.

For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to ‘be’ was a nurse, and when I was about 7 or 8 my Dad got me an anatomy and physiology book on the heart.  I had in memorised in about a week and so began my love affair with how amazingly cool our bodies can be, with all the systems that work together and get the job done.  It also got me into my nerdy habits I am guessing, and I have been a booknerd for as long as I can remember.

When I first started nursing, I was in my teens.  Dad said ‘you have to start somewhere love’ and so my parents would drive me to a nursing home each weekend for a days work.  I did it for as long as I could – until sport got in the way and traveling for basketball games interstate were something I had to do instead.  I learned how to talk to people.  I mean really talk.  I learned how sometimes silence was also OK.  It was all scary at 14 to think about some of the things that I needed to do.  But somehow, my love for care, compassion, empathy and humanity won over.  I counted down the semesters at uni, and could not wait to be a registered nurse.  Six semesters and I was done.  Then it all began.  I lived and breathed nursing.

I found a new life that had so many aspects I did not even think would happen.  I had to work night duty on Friday and Saturday night, because I was the new nurse.  My friends were out and about, or going to the movies and I was at work, awake.  My friends (most of whom I still see and call my dearest friends now) adapted – thank goodness!  I even remember chucking my first ever sickie – from a phone booth a Toombul so I could go to the movies with my friends.  And they were in the phone booth snorting and laughing in the background.  Lucky my boss had no reason to doubt me!!

I learned that not everyone had the interest in the ‘things’ I had to do at work.  My definition of a shit day at work could literally be that. Seriously.  The things that could stop me from getting to my tea break – like someones heart stopping, or their breathing.  Or just that they needed me more than I needed my 10 minute break.

I grew to dread the witching hour.  3am.  The time when for no real reason other than just happenstance, people got sicker, or died.  Car accidents happened.  Drug overdoses happened.  Friday and Saturday nights were spent knowing that soon, there would be patient’s in the empty ICU beds because alcohol, drugs and driving did not mix.  My eyes were opened to the horrors of humanity – the hatred, the malice and the sheer malevolence of a terrorist attack.  I still get goosebumps when I think of the Bali 2012 Bombings.

At 19 I had seen death.  I had sat with death, nursed its next victim with dignity and respect.  Cried with the family.  Made sure that my patient’s face was clean and their hair was brushed the right way.  Fought death and lost more times than I can count – sometimes accepting that it was ok, and other times feeling incredibly ripped off – some deaths have no real meaning.  Thankfully, I have also witnessed miracles.  Patient’s who against all odds have survived.  Situations where you think there is no hope, and then there suddenly becomes a flicker.  And then the nurses get behind that flicker and soon enough it is a raging fire.

I can safely say that nursing is so embedded within me that I know exactly where on the Broslow scale my kids are, and find myself surveying and assessing almost every potential bad ending for ways to extricate said child/person, or how to treat until we get to hospital.  I also think I am a bit of a hard arse and a bandaid is all that is needed sometimes.  I mean, if it needs glue or stitches sure, but otherwise, you can stay at home kiddo!  I have performed CPR out of the hospital so many times – and so much that some people will never walk through the cereal aisle again without remembering the incident of the person who fell, split their head open after having a heart attack on the way down.  I know how to take charge of situations like this, because it is in every brain cell!  This I know.  How to apply makeup, not so much.

I work in a job where my uniform is either scrubs (which commonly get confused for pajamas) or pants and a shirt.  I have never had to think about what to wear for work or how to do my hair – as it has to be out of the way, and not just for infection control – but for my safety.  Let me tell you, a 120kg person who is off their head on drugs is pretty darn strong, and hair is easy to grab. And it hurts.  Like really hurts.  So, my wardrobe is limited.  I fret and worry about what to wear when I have to go to training days for work (and end up being the one wearing uniform, just in case I get called back to clinical!!) or even worse when I go out (and my friends can attest to the ‘what are you wearing messages’!).

I have a love for toilet humour, a knack for acronyms and a nose that is just about able to identify anything.  I have worked more Christmases than I have had off, and have learned that making the most of the time with my family on those special days is what matters. I have bought in the new year in the back of ambulances with lights and sirens, or just a ‘happy new year’ from the nurses I am working with in between doing our jobs.  I have left work late almost every single shift in my life because we cannot just clock off if there is no-one there to take over.  Or something happens.  Or another admission.  I am late home to my family because I have been looking after someone else’s family.  My kids are ok with this now, and ask every time – ‘did you make them better mummy?’.  They have the empathy bone.

I have had my nose broken by a patient, a couple of ribs here and there, been called some pretty choice names, and been abused for all sorts of things.  It’s not all rosy.  I have had to look after ‘that’ patient again because I am 6″2 and that sometimes makes patients rethink their abuse.  I have had blood filled syringes held at me, scalpels pointed at me, urine and faeces thrown in the general direction of me and been spat at.  It has its down sides this nursing thing.  I have been in the back of ambulances, choppers, planes and boats, all in the name of trying to get to someone or trying to get them somewhere to get them better.  And while this sounds fun, it is not always great traveling at warp speed trying to administer medication or blood when there is that thing called gravity.  Or batteries go flat.

I have seen the insides of our very being.  I have seen things that you cannot really see, but only feel.  I can tell you the exact moment someone has died, because something in the room shifts, and the smell of death is gone.  I have looked after people from all walks of life – from movie stars to politicians, to real people like you and I, to prisoners, murderers, and adulterers.  I have looked after brand new humans, tiny bundles of sweet smelling babyness, to children who have terrible illnesses that make me want to howl because life is so unfair.  I have often felt like I am in the middle of a Jerry Springer show when the mother is pushing out a baby to whom she is not sure which baby daddy is which.  There are things that are so incredibly unbelievable that you would not laugh me out of the room if I tried to tell you.  I have fought for my patients, for their rights, for things they cannot possibly understand sometimes, for their dignity and for their comfort.  And I do it every shift.

I love being a nurse.  I love all of it no matter how tiring it can be; because all of the good outweighs all of the bad.  No two shifts are ever the same, and that is both a good thing and a bad thing!  Nursing is a challenge.  A constant battle, with disease, and our own intricate balance required to keep us working properly.  Nothing beats winning!  Watching a wound that you once could fit your fist into heal, watching someone ‘wake up’ after being in an induced coma for a massive head injury to actually be able to recognise family.  Watching a baby take their first breath when things looked bad for a bit.  Being a part of someone’s last wishes, and respecting them.  Believing in yourself because your patients do, and they speak about you to their family and you get introduced as “that nurse who did….or that nurse who saved me…”.  The chocolates we get as thanks, the hugs from kids, the tears of joy from happy parents taking their child home.  All of it.  I would not change a thing.  Because no matter how bad some shifts can be, the good always wins.  And yeah, that sounds a bit Marvel/DC Good V. Evil, but that is the way of it, I choose to be a nurse.  Although, when I look at it, I think nursing chose me.

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When I grow up…

This question and statement seems to be making its way around our little family right now.  “When I grow up I am going to….” and it is so amazing looking at their faces when they realise that they really can do anything.  The possibilities, right now, as a 7 year old and an almost 4 year old, are seemingly endless.

Currently, and for the past few years, Hayden wants to be a paleontologist on the weekdays and a Veterinarian on the weekends.  The weekend work is ‘to help the animals’ and to have a ‘place where people can bring their pets and I won’t make them pay so they can have pets that are not going to get sick’.  He also wants to invent something to get rid of the paralysis tick on dogs and cats – “like mozzie spray but better Mum”.  Gorgeous, and I totally hope he does!

Now the trio are hilarious when they talk about ‘being grown up’.  Unlike Hayden, they think of what they can do without getting into ‘trouble’.  So they want to – drive, get a job (a job anywhere Mum, just need money to buy stuff), and not go to bed when they are told too but when they want.  Yep, a collective voice on the bedtime by the trio.  Hilarious.  Emma does want to be a ghostbuster though, and Caitlyn a princess.  B is still undecided – either a fire man or a police man.  The think about being ‘growed up’ a lot and are always asking me things like “when I am 10 will you still tell me I have to go to bed?”  Or, “When I am a big girl, ah, about 12, can I pick what I want for tea every night?”

Makes me wonder what is so bad about sleep!  I am sure, one day, they will realise how amazing sleep is, probably when they are parents in all reality.  Now there is a scary thought!

Getting back to when I grow up.  The kids often get asked “what does your mummy and daddy do?”  Fair question.  So for me, they say ‘mummy is a nurse and a teacher’.  Both professions I take great pride in.  I suppose though, for some kids, a nurse is pretty boring and not the ‘bestest’.  My kids tell me sometimes about how one of their friends parents is a ‘big boss’, or a ‘truck driver’.  Both are apparently very cool, and the kids have a bit of a pecking order about this.  They have even asked me several times ‘do you drive trucks when you are at work?’ or ‘do you boss people around a lot to get them to do things’ in effort to see how what I does compares to what their friends parents do.

I get asked if I want my kids to be a nurse.  My honest answer – I want my kids to do what they want to do.  We have to work for such a large portion of our lives, so it should be in a profession or field that we are passionate about.  I don’t mind at all what they grow into job wise, but I do mind about who they grow up to be.  Right now, my most important job is making sure that these kids know that they are not the centre of the universe and that their actions affect others.  That they have to work at things to improve, be kind and respectful, and importantly, patient in achieving their goals.  They have to listen, and not just hear.

When you are handed your newborn baby, you see this tiny little miracle that you made and someone who has heard your heart beat on the inside.  Your biggest job is to feed, clothe and bathe them early on.  Then the needs change.  You become someone who can make ouchies all better again, bake the best cookies in all the universes, and know exactly what your child needs.  You know all the words to “Let it Go”, and can name all the Disney Characters in under 2 minutes flat.  You live off of next to no sleep. Your payment is in huggies and kisses, laughter and your hair being brushed by strong fisted four year olds.  But watching them grow – that is priceless.  Watching their personalities emerge is amazing and still blows me away when they talk about things they want to do.

I have no idea what any of my kids will ‘be’ when they grow up, and I don’t know how much of the ‘who’ they are will influence that. I just know that right now, they can do anything, be anyone, and most of all, they can dream.

My four...Photo by the amazing Kate Scott at Baby Boo Photos

My four…Photo by the amazing Kate Scott at Baby Boo Photos