Once a nurse, always a nurse.
I may no longer work at the bedside, but "nurse" remains an integral part of my personality. Sure, some general healthcare knowledge comes in handy while parenting four active boys. (Lucky for them -- or perhaps not -- I know the signs and symptoms of infection, concussion and broken bones.) But nursing is so much more than general healthcare knowledge. It's a way of life that forever changes your relationship with the world.
Before I was a nurse, it was easy to live in my own little bubble. My troubles were paramount, and anything that didn't directly affect me was relatively easy to ignore. Then I became a nurse -- and every day I stepped into other people's dramas.
At work, I saw people struggling with life and death illnesses. I saw terminally ill mothers parenting their children from their beds. I saw elderly spouses sitting vigil with their partners of 50+ years. And I began to understand that the person who snipes at me in the grocery line might not be an evil, hateful person after all; he might be a husband, on the way to the hospital to see his critically ill wife.
My nursing degree gave me a backstage pass to all sorts of personal and family drama. I finally saw behind the curtain, and came to understand that all is not always as it seems on the outside. I began to realize that each of us faces a combination of unique struggles and challenges. That insight has permanently increased my compassion for my fellow human beings.
A nurse quickly learns how to separate the serious from the not-so-serious. When you're responsible for the care of 10 patients, you have to prioritize your actions - and reprioritize them throughout the shift. At the beginning of a shift, it may look as though the patient who's just back from surgery will be the focus of my attentions. But if my formerly stable 86-year-old with a heart condition starts crashing, I must know how to quickly redirect my efforts.
That skill - the ability to constantly take in and evaluate info and then adjust my actions based on that information - has been invaluable in parenting. It doesn't hurt in the workplace either.
As nurse, I was part of the health-care establishment. I spoke the language. I knew the players. I saw, firsthand, that all healthcare providers are not equal, and I learned who to approach with problems, as well as how to get them to take my concerns seriously. (Trust me: nurses quickly learn to have concrete data on hand when calling physicians in the middle of the night.)
That knowledge has served me and my family well. If I'm dissatisfied with my treatment, I know I can - and should - consult another health-care professional. I know which tests to ask for, how to find current recommendations and how to fight for appropriate health-care coverage.
I also know that most people don't have that kind of insight into the health-care system. Most people don't speak the language; they don't fully understand what their doctor means when he says "atrial fibrillation increases your risk of a cerebrovascular incident." Worse, they don't know how to get help if the first professional they see doesn't adequately address their concerns. They have no way of knowing if their proposed treatment plan is based on the most up-to-date science, or how to refute insurance companies' refusal to pay for services.
My nursing background gives me an advantage as a health-care consumer, and I want to share that advantage with others. That's why I write today. I may no longer work at the bedside, but every health-related article I write aims to help and empower patients. I want people to understand their options before making health-care decisions. I want them to know where to find information, and how to ask questions.
Once a nurse, always a nurse.