Nursing is a job that plops you intimately into people's lives. Often you enter in at very difficult and stressful times, presenting itself with difficulties as well as many opportunities to show compassion and love. Nursing has opened my eyes to so many things and, in some respects, has completely shifted the way I view the world. I thought I would share the five most valuable lessons that nursing has taught me because they're all lessons we need to learn.
1. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
I don't think I have found anything more true than this statement, and I think it's something we (myself included) easily forget. When I walk in a patient's room, what I see before me is a family- a child and their parents. The kid is being a kid; he watches cartoons to distract himself from the fact that he's in a hospital room. The parents make small talk with me about the weather and the food.
What I don't see until I open up that patient's chart is the fact that the cartoon-loving boy has fought seizures for ten years without much success. What I don't see is mom and dad struggling through an internal battle as they decide between the safe option or the risky one that may save their child's life.
We cannot see the pain that others face. That rude cashier at the store? She's taking care of her dying mother at home. That woman that just cut you off in traffic? She just found out her 8-year old has terminal cancer and has months to live.
I'm not excusing bad behavior, and it's no fun when people are downright mean. But next time someone irks you, remember that they are fighting a battle you know nothing about. Give them the grace that you hope to one day receive yourself if you were in their situation.
2. Asking someone if they are thinking about killing themselves may be the most important question you will ever ask.
If there was one thing I learned from my mental health rotation in nursing school it's this: if you are concerned that someone is contemplating suicide, always find the courage to ask.
My mental health professor told a story in which she had a gut feeling that one of her neighbors was contemplating suicide. My professor didn't know her that well, and was scared to ask the lady if she was thinking about killing herself... so she didn't ask. Less than 24 hours later, police found the neighbor dead, hanging in her closet. This happened 30 years ago- and my professor still can't tell the story without tears streaming down her face.
If you are concerned that someone is thinking about suicide, ASK THEM. It's scary, hard to do, and really uncomfortable. I know this, because I've had to ask it. And PLEASE for a second don't believe that by asking them, you will be giving them the idea of committing suicide. This common misconception couldn't be farther than the truth.
If you are concerned to the point that you are considering asking someone if they are thinking about killing themselves, there is almost 100% chance that the person you are going to ask has already thought about it. You will not be giving them the idea. Trust me, you won't. There are countless stories about people who didn't go through with their suicide plan because someone saw them, asked them about it, and got them help.
I firmly believe that if more of us were willing to ask this question and commit to getting our friends and family help, the number of suicides would drastically go down in America. Most of the time, people just want to be heard. Be that person who hears them.
3. We're all human.
Medicine is a wonderful thing that is saving lives every day. But what people tend to forget is that doctors and nurses are humans too and we have the capability to make mistakes. We are trained to be careful, vigilant, and double check everything we do. Our mistakes hold more weight, and that's why we all hope and pray that we don't make one. But no matter how many double checks are done, mistakes happen. We feel awful when they happen, and some of us may never even forgive ourselves.
Realizing my own humanity means that I can more easily forgive others for their mistakes. I am not in any way excusing the mistakes I make, but I am grateful for those that show grace to me when I do make them. I try and turn around and show grace to those around me- whether it be a friend who unintentionally wrongs me, a restaurant that gets my order wrong, or someone that cuts me off in traffic.
4. The human spirit is resilient.
If there is one thing that has wowed me over and over again in the field of nursing, it's the absolute resilience of the human spirit. I see families struck by tragedy come together and become better for it. I see parents with very sick children, turn around and be incredibly kind and patient to everyone around them.
What does this mean for you? It means that you need not fear. There is no need to fear tragedy, death, or pain because beauty always arises from these circumstances. Do we hope for such things to happen to us? Absolutely not. But do we fear the occurrence of such events? No, because if such thing were to happen us, we would be given the strength that we need to handle it. The human spirit is resilient, yours included.
5. Never ever judge a book by its' cover.
I have seen the most normal of looking families be absolutely sour and rude to nurses, doctors, and everyone around them. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've seen parents with green hair, 30 tattoos, and a dozen piercings come in and be the most delightful people to work with.
I am not in any way equating tattoos, piercings, and colored hair with bad parents or bad people for that matter. All I'm saying is that my first impression of a person is almost always wrong. I've learned this over and over in my job and I try and let this translate into my personal life.
You don't know a person until you sit down with them and hear about their life. You can't know a person until you spend some time with them. Let us be a people that assume the best of people, not the worst. Let us be a people that first inclines a listening ear instead of a turned up nose.
What lessons has your job taught you? If you're a nurse, what else would you add?