When I slid on a pair of scrubs and clocked into the local emergency room as a registered nurse for the first time, there was no way I could have foreseen the journey that lay ahead. That first 12 hour shift soon evolved into the thousands upon thousands of hours I have spent at the other end of a stethoscope.
Homestead life has always served as my sanctuary from the physical and emotional wreckage that working in emergency medicine tends to leave behind. I have learned, it is vital to my well being to have a large degree of separation from what goes on while I am dressed in scrubs to everything else that exists in my life.
Years of being on my feet for twelve hours at a time, lifting heavy equipment and even heavier patients, have left me with numbness in my toes that never goes away, thin, purple lines that trail up my lightly freckled legs and a pelvis that shifts forward on one side.
The emotional affects of working in emergency medicine, are not as easily identifiable. I have worked in many different emergency rooms, in many different towns, and as different as some things are from place to place, there are many elements that remain the same no matter what name the hospital bares.
The needs of the patients never end. They demand your attention, your time, your skill. The endless influx of bored and lonely people who are really there for no legitimate medical reason at all, monopolize our precious time and resources.
The cultural shift over the last few years, risen from the gutters of society, which encourages people to behave as though medical staff no longer deserve to be treated with respect.
It is hard for me to look through the innocent eyes that I must have viewed the world with in the beginnings of this journey, years ago. I am able, however, to recall the many things these eyes have seen.
I remember the first time a patient, who I had just met, threatened to shoot me with the officer’s [that was restraining him] gun. I remember the hundreds of blurry, angry faces cursing my very existence because their non-life threatening complaints were not being addressed fast enough.
And the time a patient in the lobby, where I was working as a triage nurse, got right in my face and screamed racial obscenities at me because I cared for a patient who was having difficulty breathing before her.
When I clock out at the end of a long night, I do my best to leave these memories entombed in those hospital walls. On nights when I am home alone, or driving in a quiet car, occasionally these memories become the focus of my mind.
A patient brought in by the police wearing no clothes, plopping down in my triage chair as comfortable with himself as anyone could be. A bloody high five I shared with a doctor who had just successfully placed a challenging chest tube on a catastrophically injured trauma patient. The completely empty eyes of a mother whose son never woke up from his nap that day.
The complete shock of watching my own blood stream down my face and into my hands, as a girl I was trying to help struck me hard in the face-this left a crack that I know will never be fully repaired.
The many, many anxious faces of Alzheimer’s patients who are fighting to understand a world that no longer makes any sense to them. The gentleman who removed so much poop from himself and decorated his stretcher with the mess, we all couldn’t stop laughing about it for hours.
The hundreds of times I sat with a grieving spouse, parent, child of a person they will never speak to again, as the doctor plainly tells them their loved one is dead-not to be cruel, but to help begin the long journey of grieving.
The work families I have been graciously accepted into, the hugs, the tears, the endless snarky, twisted jokes we share to lighten the burdens we carry.
The completely limp, blank eyed little girl a hysterical mother thrust at me. Feeling like I couldn’t run fast enough. This is the only scene of my nursing career that haunts me to this day, the only one that plays on a continual loop in my mind, if I were to let it.
These many memories are why I need to sit in the sunshine and watch the chickens cluck and scratch about. Why I need to put on my muck boots and trample through the still woods on the farm, listening to Denali race through the stream beside me. Why sitting beside Oliver with the sweet smell of hay all around us and scratching his belly until he falls asleep, is woven into the very essence of who I am.
These simple pleasures heal the cracks that have formed over the years. They restore the weariness I sometimes feel in my bones. There is no place I feel safer or more loved than when Neil and I are locking up the farm for the night, walking in the still darkness with nothing but head lamps and stars to guide us, hand in hand. No beeping monitors, no angry faces, no grieving mothers, just love.
I know how lucky I am to have a safe haven that is always there when I need it. A place that allows me to heal and continue serving in a position many people couldn’t. I know most folks don’t understand how I can walk in muck boots one day and nurse’s shoes the next, but these two essential parts of me couldn’t exist without the other.
Until next time…