I think that many of us ask this question to ourselves before making the decision to go to nursing school. I do have some friends that said they knew that they wanted to be a nurse from very early on and speak of it as some type of “calling.” I did not have this calling, however. My calling was more of a creative one. I dreamed of becoming an artist or a writer. I look back at times and sometimes wish that I had had the courage and self-confidence to follow that calling to the fullest, but I for one moment do not regret deciding on becoming a nurse. What led me from Picasso to Nightingale was my mother. My mother put herself through nursing school when we were children, while on welfare, with an alcoholic husband… Pretty amazing I’d say. She is one of those “I had a calling” people who states that she knew when she was quite young that she wanted to become a nurse. Sadly, she never pursued it when she was younger. She said that she did not have the self-esteem and that she “Was not college material”. At least that is what Sister Francis told her at St. Mary’s school for girls. My mother and her three sisters would joke about how their father would tell them all repeatedly that they better take good care of their teeth as no one wants to look at a secretary with bad teeth. My mother then just assumed she would be a secretary and maybe get married some day. Back then many women were secretaries, teachers, and nurses but I guess in the McPherson family secretary was the thing to be. She much later in life went on to school not only because of a “Regretful life’s calling”, she said, but now “out of sheer desperation”. She needed to better herself and wanted a better life for her family. She graduated at 44 years old and went on to a long nursing career as a psychiatric nurse, then finishing her career at the Veterans Administration. My mother was very grateful to the profession and encouraged me to consider it. She would often say as a way to entice me growing up, “You will always be able to get a job and be able to pay your bills.” Dreamy. I mean wasn’t I going to be the next Madonna? “You can pursue other interests more easily after your bills were paid,” she would continue. This was, however, practical and made sense. Not only were my bills going to get paid but I’d also be helping people. Hmmmm…. I have had many friends through the years complain of not being fulfilled at all in their careers and they had spent a lot of time and money to get them. I then thought that I better consider nursing. Sounds like it could be a good gig.
I will have you know that I did not go into this lightly although I realize that it sounds it. I decided to make sure that I was “cut out” to be a nurse. I decided I should at least try to work in a hospital as an aide to see if this was for me or if I was any good at it at all. I was taking my college pre-requisites and had just entered the nursing program but was still unsure. I became a certified nurse’s aide and began working at a local facility. Whatta Ya know? I liked it. One of the first patients that I had was bed bound. I had to go in and give a bed bath and make the bed…WITH the patient STILL IN IT! How do you do that? Is that possible? I knew we kind of went over it in class but I wasn’t paying attention and it wasn’t a live person! I walked into the patient’s room quietly. I was so nervous. I softly said to the patient that it was time for a bath trying to avoid eye contact as maybe this would make it less awkward. But unfortunately, you cannot bathe a patient without looking. The patient smiled. I got my supplies all ready. Ok. I’m ready. I can do this. I was terrified. I gently pulled down the covers (after of course washing my hands and donning my gloves people). I looked down and through the gap in the patient’s Johnny to my horror, a large moist red mass was lying on the bed and it appeared to be coming from the patient’s rectal area. Jesus Christ! I recall that I nearly almost passed out right there after calling for Jesus in my head. What in the heck is that? I thought. I pressed the call bell for the nurse and started saying Hail Mary’s hoping that I didn’t do something wrong. I knew that I hadn’t done anything. I hadn’t even touched anything yet! But I grew up Irish Catholic and feel guilty about things that I have nothing to do with for reasons I will never quite understand. The nurse came in and saw the look of terror on my face. “What is it, Dianne?” She said. I lifted the covers gently while lightly touching my patient’s shoulder while trying to smile and not panic. The patient would just look at me and smile back seemingly oblivious that anything was wrong. “Oh my,” the nurse said. “Looks as though we have a prolapsed rectum.” I didn’t know what in the god’s name that was. Obviously, I know what prolapsed means. I mean, I was smart. (my mother told me so). I know what a rectum is, but how? Why? The nurse asked me to stay with the patient while she called the Doc on call. After what seemed like an eternity the nurse came back in and said that the Doctor, of course, was not going to be able to come in for a bit and she was instructed to see if GENTLY, (is there any other way?) the rectum could be pushed back inside of the patient until he came in to assess, otherwise, it could become necrotic and possibly die. OMG! … This was all so terrifying to me and exciting at the same time. I was genuinely so interested and wanted to be a part of keeping someone’s rectum from dying. No one should have a dead rectum! Who knew your rectum could just spontaneously fall out? Who knew a rectum could even die on its own? The nurse slowly advanced the rectum back inside while the patient seemed comfortable and blissfully unaware. Whew…. I thought, now relieved. Rectum back in. We are done here. The nurse looked at me and then back down at the bed. My eyes gazed down following hers and suddenly and slowly we watched again as the rectum slowly advanced out and fell back out onto the bed. Noooo! I mouthed looking at the nurse silently so the patient could not hear. The nurse explained this happens sometimes and someone is going to have to hold the rectum inside of the patient if possible until the Doc can get here. As she said this she looked at me with a cat that ate the canary smile. “You’re a nursing student,” she said. Now when I heard this I believe I went into some type of catatonic state for a good while. I cannot do this. No way! One part of me thought this to the core, but another part was so determined to do this. I wanted to be a part of saving this patient’s rectum. This was a big deal. Bigger than bringing food over to tables at the clam shack that I worked at the last few summers or the ice cream parlor I worked at before that, where my biggest problem to solve was jimmies (sprinkles for non-Boston folks) or no jimmies. This was serious business. “I’m in!” I said as the nurse guided my hand and literally, I was in.
I held the patient’s rectum in for almost two hours before the doctor came that night. My hand fell asleep, my back hurt but the patient slept comfortably. I knew driving home that night when my shift was over that I wanted to be a nurse. Saving a rectum at that point in my life was probably the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me. I felt that I had done something meaningful. I saved a rectum for god’s sake! But seriously, I felt that I had contributed. I had helped and it felt good. The patient’s rectum would be saved and I was on my way home now feeling confident I am doing the right thing. This is good. Helping people is good. Nursing seems pretty cool.
I realize everyone has a different story for wanting to get into this profession but I think that we all have one thing in common in that helping people feels good. Coming home at the end of the day, (most days anyway) and realizing you did some good stuff in the world was alright with me. Better than alright. And getting paid to do it sounded A-Okay.
What’s your “How I Got into Nursing Story”?