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Five life lessons I learned from a nurse

Posted by W. Jeffrey Rice

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on May 13, 2015 @ 04:30 AM

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Mother’s Day and National Nurses Week are two celebrations that for me fall perfectly into place. I have always been grateful to have a mother who raised me to have strong values, high morals, and integrity. However, until now I never considered how many of these traits came directly from her role as a Registered Nurse. Throughout her career she demonstrated her belief system through her actions, how she cared for her patients and the experiences she shared.

Her five most important teachings were ….

1. Bravery can be a simple act

Children don’t often feel scared for their parents, as they seem invincible through their youthful eyes. Nevertheless, I was well aware of the AIDS epidemic captivating the news in the mid-1980s. As my family often did coming back from a weekend adventure, we stopped at the home of my mother’s patient. As she stepped out of the car, she casually told my dad that this was going to be the first AIDS patient she visited. In the back seat of our blue mini-van I was overcome with terror. As far as I knew, AIDS was a mysterious and incurable disease with little known of how it was contracted. The 20-minute wait, as my mother treated her patient, seemed like an eternity. When she finally reappeared I was relieved. Before she could even sit, I asked her “Why are you helping someone with AIDS?” Looking back on that moment, she seemed annoyed that I had overheard her conversation with my dad. But she answered simply, “That’s what we [nurses] do, we take care of sick people.” The simplicity and the matter of fact way she responded has had a profound influence on my definition of bravery. To be brave, is not to be absent of fear, rather it is understanding the risks and moving ahead to do what is right and just.

 

2. Lessons are more memorable with living examples

In my small town, a rite of passage for young teenage boys was to jump off a 50-foot train bridge we called the “trestle” into the river below. As one summer neared, my friends and I talked more and more about making the plunge, but as usual, my mother always seemed to be one step ahead. She sat me down, and asked if I remembered visiting one of her patients awhile back where the man was paralyzed from the waist down. I was pretty young at the time of the visit, so the image of a man lying on his stomach elevated on table was vivid. She explained that he became a paraplegic after diving off a similar train bridge. Needless to say, neither I, nor any of my friends, ever dove head first off of the bridge… however we did jump off feet first.

 

3. Find reasons to celebrate

In our house, like many at the time, the newspaper would quickly be divvyed up by family members - front page, sports, comics, ads, and … obituaries? Yes my mom read the obituaries every day, and would make a kind comment about someone she knew or cared for. Looking back I think this may be the reason we celebrated so many holidays in our house. My mom had holiday decorations, many of them homemade, for each month of the year that she would proudly display inside and outside of our home. She purposely looked for reasons to celebrate life, recognize our good fortune, and share a laugh.

 

4. Always ask for a second opinion

My mother was a highly skilled nurse, who demonstrated her abilities numerous times with her patients, our neighbors, and my teammates. However, when it came to her own children, she always sought a second opinion. Many times, with tightly bound gauze wrapped around my head, we would walk down the street to a neighbor’s house (who also was an R.N.) to double check that she hadn’t missed anything, or discuss whether we need to go to the emergency room to get stitched up. When it comes to family, it is easy for us to be too hard or too soft on the ones we love. It is better to seek an objective diagnosis.

 

5. Connections

Last, and I think this is why my mother was well suited to be a nurse, is the importance of human connections. In the 20 towns she served, I never felt I could go anywhere without her knowing someone or her stopping to talk about how everything was going. If I had a crush on a popular girl, my mom would reminisce about how the girl was a lovely baby and how she helped care for her and her mother when they first came home from the hospital. Or if I was angry at an opponent on the soccer field, she would always remind me that he was her patient’s grandson, and he was a nice boy. As a child, this outlook was – to be kind – annoying. However, there is something to be said for seeing the world as one where we are all connected.

During National Nurses Week, I encourage retired, current, and soon to graduate nurses to share with us their training and understanding of human nature. Help teach us a few of life’s lessons including how to be brave, the power of experience, taking time to celebrate, be willing to ask for help, and most of all share in the belief that we are all connected.

We want to hear from you.

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Tags: Nurses, Nursing Stories, Nurses Week

    

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