To My Nursing Moms

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I love Mother’s Day in the city. It’s all about the flowers.

The frazzled dads with tots in tow, trying to choose the right (or maybe most convenient) bouquet while frantically juggling breakfast fixings, the paper, haphazardly wrapped gifts. Young men and women who, on any other day, would never be seen with dead flowers wrapped in bows, carry them proudly. Older men, families; the flowers are everywhere.

People carry flowers in the city all the time, but on Mother’s Day, you know it’s because mom is waiting at the end of their journey. Makes me smile, and think of my mother, and wish I could simply just pick up a bouquet and walk to her house.

My mom is amazing, maybe more so for the fact that she knows almost everything about me, and loves me still. But today, I realized that even though my mom knows how important nursing is to me and often listens to many of my harrowing tales, she’s not my nursing mom.

This June, I turn 6 in nurse years. Throughout those years, countless nurses have mothered me, but I owe my nursing life & breath to a specific handful of them.

My first nurse mom was the director of an externship program I was admitted to the summer before my final year of nursing school. Smiling, but strategic, S ran a tight ship. I took a chance after class one day and approached this no-nonsense, intimidating woman with a question. I don’t remember my initial query to S, but I do recall the gutsy request student nurse Amanda made after our lengthy chat in the hallway of the hospital’s basement passages: “Will you be my mentor?”

Many hospital cafeteria lunches, phone calls, e-mail exchanges and years later, I still consider S as my first nurse mom. More than any professor in college, more than any preceptor in clinicals, S shaped my baby nursing brain. Our conversations encouraged me to be curious, push myself to learn, and take chances by practicing innovative nursing. I love when my inbox holds an e-mail from S – she always has a new, creative policy to share with me.

After nursing school, I set sail from the fields of Ohio to the big city of DC. There, I started my nursing career in a tough-as-nails MICU at DC’s biggest hospital. First day? You’re with V. I still remember when I saw her, regal and strong, laughing her laugh near the nurses station. I introduced myself and informed her I was her new protégé. For the next 6 months. I’m pretty sure she rolled her eyes. I’m definitely sure she didn’t smile and hug me.

V was no S. She was not immediately on my side and smiling. I had to work – and hard – to pull my confused head out of the shaky ground around me and prove my weight. A recovering army kid, V started work each morning 30 minutes early. When her sleepy co-workers arrived at 7, V’s assessments were already completed and charted. She knew what the day looked like for her patients, and was ready to conquer it. So, I started work a half an hour early, too.

V taught me how to nurse efficiently, and how to do everything solo. A former floor nurse, she showed me how to pull up, turn, bathe, transfer and travel with my patients without any help, or injury. To this day, when the unit is crazy and there are no hands available, I silently thank V for saving my back.

But most importantly, V taught me what it meant to care for patients as people, separate from their diagnoses. No matter how busy we were (and believe me, we were busy), our patients always looked and felt clean and orderly. If we received a patient with tangled, matted hair, we gave her back combed and braided. Scruffy faces always got shaved.

V sat with her patients, talked honestly to her patients, and was many times, the professional that families preferred to hear advice from. She taught me that as a nurse, a fundamental part of my job of care was to talk with people in ways they understood, in stories they wanted to tell and hear.

Somehow, each morning, I survived the gut-wrenching fear I faced before work. Somehow, I never hopped on a train at Union Station to Philly or Florida, or anywhere, as I dreamed of doing during my morning commute. Somehow, I got through the crazy admissions, the horrible codes, the poop, the disorganization and the cluelessness that all new nurses feel, and I passed V’s endless tests (believe me, everything was a test). My first day off orientation was my first day as a real nurse. Without V, I’d be a different nurse, a different woman, a different human. She IS nursing to me.

From there, I moved on to a MICU in Western New York. There was nothing fancy or exciting about my decision to work there, and feeling unenthused and in a strange time of life, I simply plunked myself into the job without much to-do. Soon after starting, two young nurses befriended me – A & K. Both beautiful, intelligent, accomplished professionals; I was intimidated.

A & K gave me something no other nurse had in my career: immediate love and acceptance as a member of the team. Despite my many shortcomings at the time, they cared for me in the way I needed most – as nurse friends. Yes, they taught me all about balancing sick patients while drastically short-staffed, what personalities to avoid, and how to get arterial blood from a pulseless patient, but nursing was not what I thank them for today. I thank them for their unquestioning love and support as co-workers.

Nurses can be some of the most difficult professionals to warm up to. I’ve worked with countless – old and young – who take years to give newbies the time of day. A & K, my young nurse mothers, taught me that there’s no reason to do anything but instantly embrace every new team member as part of the unit family.

Still MICU-ing it, I’m here in the city this International Nurses & Mother’s Day. The unit is different from any other I’ve worked. Here, I have a cadre of nurse mothers to thank for my nightly successes & survival. When I’m swamped, these ladies click my vitals without blinking an eye, they laugh at all my corny jokes, and they hug me when I’m trying to hold back my tears patients that I love pass away tragically. They feed me, help me, encourage me, and mother me. When I’m sad and wishing for a hug from my own mother, they embrace me in her place.

Countless “mothers” exist in my nursing life – nurses, respiratory therapists, doctors, nurses aides, researchers, professors, and friends. Just like I don’t know where I’d be without my own mother, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without these women – all mothers themselves – my nursing moms.

Thanks and love to all of you – today, and everyday – for giving me nursing life, and working so hard to keep me in line. Happy Mother’s Day!

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