Like many new high school graduates, I was unsure of what I wanted to do for a career. My parents were both in the medical field, so it would be only natural that I follow in their footsteps. My dad was a combat medic in the United States Air Force, my mom was a retired nurse, who had been cross-trained in nearly every specialty, by the end of her thirty-two years. I am the youngest of eleven children, and virtually every one of them went into medicine too, pharmacists, doctors, nurses, CNA’s, we had a natural aptitude for pink-collar professions. I suppose our parents might have had a hand in that too, always explaining things to us anatomically, giving us a full work-up when we were sick, and there was no fooling them that we were sick, to get out of going to school! As one does, I wanted to rebel as a teenager and go a different way than the rest of my family. I thought I might get a degree in criminology, so as to be a behavior analyst- still saving the world, still an important job, just not in the medical field like the rest of them.
I got my degree in sociology, and realized I did actually want to do more, and that working directly with the patients was exactly where I wanted to be. I got a job as a data entry clerk while I was in college, working for a neutropenia registry. While I was satisfied knowing I did a good job, I was accurate with my data, and I was quick, I knew I was not saving the world sitting behind a desk. I then decided to start the process of becoming a certified nursing assistant, I took night classes, I took day classes at my college, and I did my clinicals, while working full time. I thought I would die of exhaustion by the end of it, but I actually managed all of it very well.
Shortly before I had become a CNA, my elderly father had fallen and broken his hip, and had been placed in the care of a health and rehab, during which time I noticed they did not use gait belts or Hoyer lifts or any assistive devices to transfer the patients. Even my father, with a broken hip! I wasn’t even a CNA yet, but I knew that was improper technique. I asked one of the aides about why they don’t use the transferring equipment and they essentially told me they had access to it, in the facility, but they didn’t use it unless they were under investigation by the state. To reiterate, they had access to the devices, they were trained, and yet they still didn’t use transferring equipment, knowing they were jeopardizing their patient’s safety, simply because it was faster and easier to not use it. In that exact moment, I decided I wanted to become a CNA and give other people’s family better care than the care my dad received. He ended up falling at that facility, and breaking his other hip. He never came home. He died because the healthcare workers couldn’t be bothered to transfer him safely, or assist him in his recovery. I vowed to be the difference I wanted to see in the world. If there were things I could do, to ensure a patient lives long enough to go back home, I made a vow to myself to do everything I could so that no one loses their loved ones, if it’s simply an issue of having a good nurse.
I had been a CNA a few years by the time my daughter was born, my daughter was born with gastroschisis, a rare but treatable birth defect of the abdominal wall. We knew about it ahead of time, and I requested the best hospital in the state to give birth at. After my daughter’s surgery, to repair the defect, I met one nurse who was so incompetent and so inattentive, I felt a rage that pushed me to take my career further again, and be better than the care my daughter received. If this idiot nurse could get the credentials, what was stopping me? This nurse had neglected to change my preemie’s diaper for so long that it had filled, burst, saturated all of her clothes and bedding, and by the time I had visited, had cooled, and my poor daughter was shivering because she was swaddled in a soiled, wet blanket. The nurse had been sitting right in front of my daughter’s bed, but clearly hadn’t changed her, when I voiced my concerns about my daughter’s shivering, she assured me that it was fine because she was on a warmer bed, which was off. She completely dismissed me, but took her temperature to placate me, and saw that she was indeed several degrees cooler than she ought to be. In that moment, I vowed I would be a nurse who cares for my patients the way I would care for my own, and that it would never just be about the money for me.
I have been a CNA five years now, and I have learned how to create a working relationship with the patients and their families, while maintaining a professional distance. The families want to know their loved ones are being cared for, as a NICU nurse, I will be able to relate my own story of my daughter’s recovery, to instill hope for the babies that come home. I have also learned that nurses who chose that line of work for the money, won’t be as invested as the ones with a personal connection to the work. When we inevitably lose a patient, the money-motivated nurses will be the ones who burnout and change careers. The nurses with a personal motivation are the ones who will come back to work and put their feelings aside, for the patient’s sake. I know I can change the world, if I save even one patient’s life.