Read an Excerpt
Appetite, with an opinion of attaining, is called hope; the same, without such opinion, despair.
'Good thing you got him here! Any longer and we would have had to remove part of his bowel. He has an inguinal hernia . . . if it had strangulated . . . ' I didn't understand the medical jargon. The doctor was explaining my baby's condition, but he might as well have been speaking French.
Johnny was seven months old when he screamed uncontrollably, despite all my efforts to appease him. I knew something was seriously wrong. I bolted into the emergency department. The ER doctor examined him and the next thing I knew I was signing papers for emergency surgery.
Fear numbed me as I inwardly prayed that Johnny would be okay. God was the only glimmer in my dismal life back then. At age twenty-three, I was struggling to support my three children. Our marriage was failing and we were separated. Again.
I'd survived mostly on government assistance since the birth of my first child, who was four years old. I'd quit high school during my twelfth year and later obtained my GED. My work history was sketchy, but I longed to be financially stable. I prayed earnestly for direction.
I spent as much time as I could with Johnny and I hated leaving him to be tended by strangers. While visiting, I noticed one of his care-providers was dressed in green while the rest wore the traditional white. I wanted to ask her why, but I was still dazed by everything and did not have the emotional energy for idle inquisitions.
One day I watched as she busied herself taking Johnny's temperature. My curiosity overwhelmed me. 'Why are you wearing a green dress?'
'I'm a nursing student,' she replied.
'What school do you attend?' I continued, just making conversation. She told me all about a one-year federally funded program.
'How do you become a part of this program?' I asked.
The friendly student smiled eagerly. 'Let me tell you about becoming a nurse.'
With pride and enthusiasm she gave me a detailed account of what was necessary. I had never considered a nursing career, although since leaving high school, I thirsted for knowledge. As I listened to her, I felt the dying flame of hope rekindling. Could I do this?
During the following weeks I completed the list of prerequisites she shared with me. Everything was coming together fine. Then I discovered that having your own transportation was a requirement. 'But I don't have a car,' I explained to the program director. They could only accept thirty-two students and they screened carefully trying to select those most likely to graduate. She studied my face in silence.
'I will give you two months to get one,' she said hopefully.
Yes! I thought while thanking God for victory. My heart fluttered with excitement. I was scheduled to begin classes in two months.
'I'm going to be a nurse!' I proudly proclaimed to my family.
Their laughter was biting.
'Do you think you can be a nurse? You've never been around sick people.'
'I can see you fainting at the first sight of blood!' my mother added.
When I'd quit school it was no surprise to them because no one in my family had ever graduated. They meant no harm, but their thoughtless cruelty fueled my determination to succeed. I'm going to finish nursing school if only to show them, I pledged to myself.
On the starting date I woke with excitement, then gasped at the dramatic weather changes. Heavy snow covered the trees and roads. Fallen tree branches covered portions of the streets as far as I could see. I had slept through the worst ice storm in the history of our county. The radio recited a long list of closings. I was sure my school was among them, but I called to confirm. 'No, we are open for classes,' the receptionist informed me. My father agreed to take me and came without a murmur.
We gathered in one classroom sharing our nursing aspirations. When I explained how I learned about the program, everyone was amazed that I started the same year that I applied. 'I've been on the waiting list for two years!' was the common response from others. This confirmed what I already knew: this career move was orchestrated by God.
School demanded rigorous discipline. My children were ten months, two, and four. I had two in diapers and one in preschool. After a full day at school, I looked forward to spending time with them. By the time I got them fed, bathed, and prepared for bed, I was exhausted. I gathered my thick medical texts to prepare for study and was asleep in seconds. It was God's grace and my thirst for knowledge that enabled me to earn good grades.
Things went well until the ninth month when I experienced medical problems and my doctor recommended bed rest. There was no way for me to miss classes and maintain passing grades.
'Take some time off to get better and return next year,' the director said. I was devastated, having anticipated graduation in only three months. I had invested too much to give up and was ready for my struggling to end.
With regained health I returned the following year. I was appalled to learn that only three months' credit was granted for the previous nine months of toil. I pushed my anger aside and forged ahead. I worked harder than ever for nine months and I graduated, with my family smiling proudly in the audience.
After passing the state-mandated test, I became a licensed practical nurse. I submitted applications to all the local hospitals. When I talked to other classmates, they all had dates scheduled for orientation. I had not heard a thing. I debated whether to call and check on my application. Hesitantly, I phoned the hospital where I really wanted to work. 'I'm wondering if you've been trying to call me . . . I'm in and out often . . .'
'Yes we have,' the human resource staffer responded.
Thus began my nursing career.
A few years later I entered college to become a registered nurse. That was twenty-three years ago and I thank God every day for calling me to serve others in this way.
Recently, as I cared for my patient, a weary-looking young woman visitor asked, 'Is it hard to be a nurse?'
I detected a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
I smiled eagerly. 'Let me tell you about becoming a nurse . . . '
Confessions of a CNO
Remember this—that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
As I connect with all of the wonderful nurses that I have had the privilege to work with over thirty-five years in administration, and ask them why they became nurses, the answers are inevitably similar. 'I want to help people,' 'I wanted to be a nurse like my mom,' 'I want to feel valuable to the greater good or the community.' My journey to nursing was not so altruistic. I must confess, I wanted to be a dancer, not a nurse. My goal was to live and dance professionally in New York City. A friend who was studying nursing convinced me that if I took a couple of years off from dancing to obtain my nursing degree, I could have a good job between shows and I wouldn't have to wait tables like other striving actresses and dancers. I thought her suggestion was a great idea, even though I felt that my place in life was to make people happy by entertaining them. But when I began working in the hospital as a nurse, my life was transformed.
I realized that as a performer I made people happy for a few minutes but I did not have a meaningful impact on their lives. Nurses cared about people, whereby most performers cared about themselves and their next job. It began to frustrate me to observe the value that society continually placed on performers as evidenced by the money and fame that they received. It undervalued the 'true heroes'—the nurses.
I knew that I would never leave nursing to dance again when I began working in critical care as a new nurse. I received the call from the emergency department that we were getting a level-one trauma patient. A student nurse on her way home from a study group totaled her car close to our hospital. In those days, very long ago, seat belts were not promoted as they are today, and she was ejected out the front window, under the car, which then exploded. Surprisingly, she did not suffer severe burns, but her skull was crushed. Soon after surgery, brain activity ceased. Her mom, tormented by the turn of events, truly believed that her daughter was going to recover. Staff members did not share the same level of optimism but supported the family in their decision to maintain life support until they were ready to make that difficult decision. Determined that she would recover, her mom refused the option for organ donation. She did agree, however, that if her daughter arrested we would not 'code' her or perform unnecessary heroics.
I had a special connection to this patient since she was only two years younger than I and shared the same interest in nursing.
About two weeks into the ordeal, she began to flutter her eyelashes and make what appeared to be purposeful movements. We were amazed and cautiously hopeful that perhaps her mom was right. I left for the day and began my hour-long drive home. Halfway home I realized that there was still a 'do not resuscitate' order on the chart. I immediately turned around and drove back to the hospital to remove the DNR order. When I returned the next morning, in report I learned that she had arrested during the night and was successfully resuscitated. The gratitude in the eyes of her mom when I came in to begin my daily care was enough satisfaction to last a lifetime and validate that I was where I needed to be in my life.
I also began to believe in miracles, because after a rather long period in rehab, my patient went back to nursing school and finished her studies.
I have since moved on in my career, through various leadership positions, to become the vice president/chief nursing officer of one of the largest hospitals in the country. I have made it my goal in life to make sure that all nurses realize how valuable they are to the lives of others, and that they will experience their own stories that sustain them and make them feel that they, too, are where they need to be in life.
There are a privileged few who can say, 'I am a nurse.'
It's the greatest performance of my life.
©2007. Jeri Darby and Val Gokenbach. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul: Second Dose by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Chef Antonio Frontera. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street , Deerfield Beach , FL 33442.