Today I Walked Into My Last Shift at United
Today I walked into my last shift at United Hospital indefinitely. Monday at 0700 my colleagues will walk out and onto the sidewalk, facing their patient’s windows, to begin an open-ended strike.
I am a “lifer” at United. 25 years ago, my parents excitedly rushed in for a scheduled c-section and left with unlimited appreciation for the nurses that taught my then new parents how to care for their new bundle of pink joy. It was nurses at United Hospital birth center that diligently assessed and kept my mom and I safe during labor. It was the nurses that taught my dad how to swaddle and comfort his newest joy. It was the nurses that taught my mom how to feed and nourish me. It was the nurses that discharged me and hoped I would have the greatest life.
Flash forward 15 years later to the night by dad was rushed to United’s ED with the scary signs of a heart attack, only for my family to find out via CT scan, that Dad had Stage IV colon cancer with mets at the age of 41. It was the nurses at United Hospital 4500 that treated my Dad’s pain post-operatively so he could heal. It was the nurses that quickly recognized my Dad had a pulmonary embolism. It was the nurses that called a child life specialist to break the news to his children. His nurse was the one who embraced my stoic father as he broke down crying in front of his family. It was the nurses 18 months later, with such grace, transitioned my dad and his family to comfort care and home hospice so my dad could die in his home surrounded by his family and beloved White Bear Lake.
At the age of 22, with a freshly printed diploma in hand, I was the newest nurse to show up in the lobby at United. I was overjoyed to be working at United Hospital. It was the nurses that patiently taught me to take care of my patients. I couldn’t have learned what it means to advocate for your patient had it not been for the nurses that showed me. I learned from these nurses how to care for a person that is dying. I learned from them how to laugh—and cry, at what we see every day. It was the nurses that comforted me through my mistakes with stories of their own. I could not be the nurse that I am today had it not been for the ones that have come before me.
My brother was recently hospitalized for 3 months as he was challenged by mental illness. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done as a nurse, was be one of his supporters. It was the nurses at ANW and on 5920 that comforted me when I was feeling low. It was the nurses that recognized the wonderful, charismatic young man that my brother is and treated him as such. The nurses were the ones to help him cope, give him strength and be an anchor to my family. Navigating the mental health system as a family member was made possible by the amazing nurses that came into contact with us.
My job is my everyday life. But for my patients and their families it might be the scariest day in their life. It might be the most vulnerable they will be in their lifetime. I do everything in my power to be a nurse that advocates for those entrusted in my care. No one can put a price on that. There is nothing more valuable than a nurse who cares.
I cannot do this job or continue to do this job without taking care of me first. I have to keep myself strong and safe for my patients. No nurse should have to worry about not “if” but “when” they will be hurt or exposed to something at work. My care should never be compromised because there aren’t enough nurses to safely care for the amount of very sick people that we deal with every day. I must stand up for my profession so that there will be experienced, seasoned nurses in the future to teach new and eager nurses, how to be compassionate caregivers.
Although I may be accused or even experience feelings of abandoning my patients on Monday, these people and their families are the reasons that I will go out stand in solidarity with my co-workers. I have been on the other side. It is each and every nurse here that is strong enough to collaboratively say "we deserve better and so do our patients."
As I sat with my last patient in the PACU yesterday, he had some parting words for me. “I’m all for what you are doing, you need to stand up for yourselves. If you don’t, no one will."