The Shock

When I close my eyes and imagine what a hospice nurse is like, I don’t think I ever imagined someone like me.

My father was on hospice many years ago and his hospice nurse was a former nun. Plump and proper, she talked with my dad for hours about God and Heaven. She never wore scrubs, but, rather was always in stiff navy blue polyester pants, that looked itchy, and a white button down shirt with a rounded collar. Her navy cardigan was a few shades lighter than her pants, probably faded from washing, and the buttons were softly rounded from years of dancing through the button holes. Silvery hair pulled up tightly in a bun without a hair out of place. Her face was bare, not a hint of make up, but, she had a certain glow that emanated from her eyes like soft candlelight.

In my memory, she was always perfect. Always had a pen, forever had the correct answer and seemingly always knew just the right thing to say. I remember thinking that she had such steely nerves because it was like she never broke her stride. As if on some cosmic cue, she made her entrance and exit. She had it all together.

And then, there is me. I am 40 (I do still dislike saying that), I have tattoos, albeit hidden and usually swear like a sailor when I am not with patients. Often times, I may drive up to a patient’s house with my music too loud – and it could be anything from rap to country to metal to classical. I am often one extreme or another… I will either have all my make up on or look like I am in need of a doctor. My hair will be down when I enter, but, when it’s time to get busy, I pull it up and I promise, there are plenty of hairs out of place. I like to call it hospice nurse chic. It’s a thing.

I run on cold brew coffee. My water sits next to it in an effort to make me feel like I am drinking it but I don’t. I speed. I rearrange my schedule at the drop of a hat. My lunch break will sometimes involve Target.

My thoughts often run wild with questions about what patients and families must think. Who is this girl who just put sanitizer on and now is trying to unsuccessfully stuff her hands in her gloves? Is getting the large Tegaderm stuck to your glove something taught in nursing school? When I mispronounce the name of a medication and they correct me me I just want to shimmy out the door backwards.

But, just like each tree in the forest is unique and strong in its own way, I can only hope that families see nurses in the same light. Have learned through the years that there is no one perfect textbook nurse. We are all human. We all approach nursing in our own way. You cannot categorize empathy, compassion and understanding. Skill and knowledge far supersede any corny jokes one might make.

I guess what I am trying to say fellow nurses is, you are unique and perfect in your own ways. You have attributes no one else has. Patients are beyond lucky to have those. No one is perfect. Let no one shame you into believing so. After all, even my dad’s hospice nurse, perfection herself, spilled and entire bottle of narcotics and whispered a soft “Shit!” under her breath. Shatter the images and throw the unachievable to the wind.

If you want to see a great hospice nurse, look in the mirror.

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