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Nursing Is Killing Me

What no one tells you in nursing school is that bedside nursing slowly takes its toll. No one tells you that eventually every nurse will wake up and realize something hurts or is broken. Yet there is nothing more worth fighting for than the work that we do and the people that we do it for.
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Eine Krankenschwester haelt am Dienstag, 8. Juli 2008, auf der Palliativstation im  Krankenhaus "St. Johann Nepomuk" in Erfurt die Hand einer Patientin. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) --- A nurse holds the hand of a patient at the palliative ward in the  hospital 'St. Johann Nepomuk' in Erfurt, Germany, on Tuesday, July 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
Eine Krankenschwester haelt am Dienstag, 8. Juli 2008, auf der Palliativstation im Krankenhaus "St. Johann Nepomuk" in Erfurt die Hand einer Patientin. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) --- A nurse holds the hand of a patient at the palliative ward in the hospital 'St. Johann Nepomuk' in Erfurt, Germany, on Tuesday, July 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Nursing school was hard. My husband and I were both students, so we lived our lives paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to survive each semester. When I graduated nursing school, I was so happy that I was done with school (or so I thought) and finally making money. OB fascinated me.

Once I got a taste of what it was like, I couldn't get enough of it. I worked every single day I possibly could, signing up for call every day I had off, offering to work anywhere on our LDRP unit. I loved knowing that our unit needed me, that our patients needed me, and that I was doing something that felt so important. When I'd get a frantic call asking if there was any way I could come in and "help out" I'd arrive within 10 minutes. I would literally run to our unit with a grin plastered across my face, anticipating the day that someone would to tell me to slow down, and thinking in my head that I would just yell back as I ran by, "my team needs me." With my heart pounding in my chest and my adrenaline ready for whatever I was walking into, I would gladly come to work. My scrubs were always ready, my shoes always freshly scrubbed with bleach. I just couldn't get enough of OB.

What no one tells you in nursing school is that bedside nursing slowly takes its toll. No one tells you that eventually every nurse will wake up and realize something hurts or something is broken. Maybe it's an accumulation of bad days, or busy shifts, or being short-staffed. Maybe it's difficult patients, difficult leadership, or difficult providers.

Stress can be surprising and unannounced, or slow and continuous, eating away your energy piece by piece and day by day. The unexpected and different levels of stress coupled with long work hours and no regular eating schedule will eventually slow you down. There's a good possibility your systolic and diastolic numbers will rise, as will the number on the scale. And one day something will give. It might be your back from all the lifting and pulling and bending. It might be your feet or your knees or your shoulder. And although you might escape a diagnosis of obesity or chronic hypertension, something will eventually break. It's only a matter of time. I never thought there would be so much manual labor in nursing. I never imagined that stress would present in so many different forms. I never considered that nursing would take its toll on me and everyone around me.

I walk with a limp now. I would still go to work (if they were desperate), and I'd still get there in less than 10 minutes... unless it wasn't an emergency, and then I'd take my full hour to get there. But I wouldn't be able to run. And now I know that everyone would survive without me, without my extra help.

And as I've furthered my education and wondered what I will do with it all, I still can't let go of patient care. I keep pulling a muscle in my back. I keep reinjuring my right knee. I keep waiting for a good time to get my gallbladder removed, waiting for the day that 800mg of Motrin won't relive my next gallbladder attack. By the end of a busy shift I can barely walk up the stairs in my house. I have to wear inserts in my shoes. There are a hundred ways nursing is trying to kill me, but I still love my job and I just can't seem to give up patient care.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that we all know that nursing is breaking all of us. I can't be the only one that thinks that nursing might be trying to kill me. What are we going to do about that? Because the patients still need us and the work we do is still important and we are called to this profession. But we can't let it kill us. We advocate every single day for our patients, but we also need to advocate for ourselves.

I jokingly refer to myself as an AWHONN groupie. I'm like a serious fan. But the real reason I love my professional organization (and the reason why you should love yours) is because there is power in numbers. And we make up our professional organization. We have the ability to direct what they're doing for us and for our patients. They fight at a higher level for so many things that impact us and everything we do. We have to fight together. Because at the rate we're going, we will burn out every new nurse in five years or less and I don't know how long we can work the way we do.

Sometimes I think nursing is killing me. It has definitely broken me... maybe it's broken you too. But we know how to get back up and piece ourselves back together and we have to continue to fight for what is right for nurses and for all the people that we serve. There is nothing more worth fighting for than the work that we do and the people that we do it for. We are capable of so many things. Let's help each other to back to our feet, let's encourage those around us, let's share our stories, and let's do great things together.

This post originally appeared on Adventures Of A Labor Nurse

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