I wrote this post a while ago, but wasn’t sure as to whether I should post it seeing as my blog mostly pertains to travel. I rarely talk about work, although many of my readers are, like me, nurses. This past week was Nurses Week, and so in light of that I’ve decided to post it. To shine a light on what nurses actually do. You’ve been warned- cause this is a bit of a nursing vent. A while back someone asked me if I had the day off and I said “yes. I’m off today and tomorrow.” To which they replied “must be nice.” Even though that week I was working 60hours. Apparently my two days off were considered something of a luxury and not an actual deserved two days off. For years I’ve put up with comments like this. Almost every guy I’ve ever dated and several of my non-nursing friends have made cracks or comments about my work hours. Comments like “must be nice to have so many days off.” Or “well really you only work part-time.” Most of the time I just laugh it off, because it is true we do get more days off than the average person. But don’t kid yourself, nurses also work much longer hours than the average person does.
Back home on average nurses in Canada and the US work around a 36hr week. That’s considered full-time. In the US that’s usually three 12hr shifts which normally are actually 12.5hrs with a 30min meal break and a couple 15 min coffee breaks if you have luck on your side. Typically from the time I left for work and returned home I was gone 14-14.5hrs. In Canada typically it’s a rotating shift of two 12hr day shifts and then two 12hr nights shifts with four to five days off. Four or five days off you say- sounds like a dream right?! Well trust me it’s far from a dream. That flip flopping from nights back to days wreaks havoc on your body. Those first couple days off are a waste of time, and when you’re in the middle of that four day stretch you have very little time for yourself, a life, or your family. I actually dread thinking of going back to Canada and having to work that schedule again.
Here in Saudi I work a 44hr week which consists of two or three 12.5hr shifts one week and five the next, usually with an hour break. Personally, I far prefer 12hr shifts to 8hr ones because I couldn’t emotionally rally to come to work five days a week, every week. Nursing is both physically and emotionally draining. If you can image I literally spend my entire day getting people stuff. Pain medications, ice, IV fluids, whatever the doctor needs, nausea medications, towels ect. Over and over again. At any time I can be juggling (depending on where I’m working) between 3-5 acutely ill patients. Coordinating with their families, the physicians and the numerous procedures that are scheduled that day. I’m fitting in multiple medications and routes of medications, assisting patients with meals, assisting them to bath, rounding with doctors, correcting critical lab results, monitoring potential problems, and sometimes very literally trying to prevent a patient from dying. I’m on my feet for long hours. Having to fight with the limited supplies and resources that come with the job. And since shit always rolls down hill most things that go wrong in a hospital are blamed on the nurse, or fall on the nurse to do. Lab didn’t come to draw labs- get the nurse to do it. Physical therapy isn’t available to ambulate a post-op- the nurse can do it. The doctor didn’t come when they said they would- blame the nurse. Because here’s the other thing. A nurses role overlaps with many other professions, meaning that nurses can do large parts of other professions jobs, but they can’t do large parts of our job. I can draw labs off my patient if the lab isn’t available, ambulate my patient if physical therapy is too busy, give respiratory treatments if a respiratory therapist can’t come. We depend on the support services to help us do our job, but sometimes have to get by on our own.
Often when I’m taking care of one patient I’m mentally planning out what needs to be done for the other ones down the hall. Making a mental list in my head about what I need to remind the doctors to order and the labs I need to follow-up on. That I need to call about Room 2’s MRI, and that I need to call infectious disease to see about getting Room 8 off isolation, that it’s time to start Room 68’s feeding, and that Room 2 is going to call for her pain medications. That it’s time to do Room 62’s dressing. That I told the care assistant I’d meet her in Room 8 to turn her. And so on and so forth, day in and day out. Juggling tasks, and trying not to forget things. (Obviously these are just patient examples and not indicative of actual patients.)
But here’s the thing….for the most part I love being a nurse. I love helping people when they’re at their worst. I love being that shoulder to lean on. I love that each day is different and challenging. I love teaching patients about their illness, mentoring new nurses, and teaching new doctors about the role that nurses play in the healthcare system. I love it, but some days I’m drained. Emotionally from carrying other peoples burdens. My fellow nurses know the toll it takes to sit with a patient as they’re told that treatment has failed, and that there are no other options. To hold the hand of a relative as their loved one passes away. To be present. To bear witness to both the high points and low points of our patients lives. Nursing can also be physically draining from being on my feet for hours on end, from walking back and forth getting people things, and from lifting heavy patients up and down in bed. The point of this post was to bring light to what a nurse actually does, because I think that people who make comments like this are actually pretty clueless about what I and my fellow nurses do. We don’t just give our patients sponge baths and then kick back with our feet on the desk waiting for a doctor to tell us what to do. Working night shift and weekends kinda sucks if I’m being honest, but it’s part of the gig and so we do it because people aren’t only sick during business hours. They get sick in the middle of the night on Christmas Day and we are there to take care of them. It’s part of the job. We aren’t just working a “part-time job.”
So to my fellow nurses. Happy Nurses Week. Crack open a bottle of wine, and make sure to have a glass for me. You deserve it!!!