What I’ve Learned

In my short career as a nurse, I’ve learned a couple of things. Mostly that it’s frightening how much I don’t know. It’s a very interesting thing to throw yourself into something that has such a steep learning curve, but with serious real-world consequences… I’m not sure yet if 12 straight hours being scared to death you’re going to accidently harm someone is good for the blood pressure. Anyway, I have managed to learn me a few things I thought I’d share. For context I work on a neuro-spine floor. Spinal surgery, brain surgery, traumas, strokes, seizures, dementia, Alzheimer’s.

  • Your mom was right – wear a helmet. ALWAYS. I’ve been guilty of this. It takes surprisingly little force to cause a life altering injury. Just wear the damn helmet.
  • It is possible to only pee once in 14 hours. Not recommended, but achievable with practice.
  • Drugs in large continuous quantities tend to be bad for you. Forget Mrs. Reagan’s failed campaign, every junior high class should be forced to take a field trip to my floor to see the actual impact of drug use. Whod’a thunk taking too much meth could cause a stroke? The official term for the resulting brain impact is ‘summer squash’.
  • My patient load is 5. That means I get to devote a massive 12 minutes per hour ensuring you’re still breathing or not otherwise declining in a way that would look bad on my record. Let’s just say that the numbers don’t add up, even on the most routine shifts. Somehow it all works.
  • People are dumb, frightening animals. I’d estimate that only about a third of the population are what you’d consider normal functioning humans who can cope with daily life. It’s very scary how many people are out walking amongst us who really don’t have any grasp on basic life skills.
  • As a society we take too many pain pills. Everyone seems to think there’s a magic pill that will take away all pain… and I’m selfishly choosing not to give it to you. Sorry, but a subdural hematoma and multiple skull fractures is going to hurt. A lot. Yes I could give you more opioids, but I’m pretty sure continuing to breathe is important. I think I read that somewhere in anatomy and physiology.
  • Speaking of pills, people have the most bizarre rituals for swallowing ’em. You’ll happily swallow a massive chunk of steak the size of campfire marshmallow, yet swallowing a tiny little pill is like coordinating a moon shot. Water must be the exact right temperature, you must pre-moisten your mouth with exactly three sips, the pill must be carefully placed in the exact right position on the tongue, and you must swallow slowly while staring at the ceiling followed by half a glass of water to wash it down. Could you imagine eating an entire meal the same way you took pills? Dinner would take six hours and you’d drink 2 gallons of water. Considering each patient takes about a dozen pills… you can start to see why the allotted 12 minutes per patient doesn’t add up.
  • The various forms of Alzheimer’s are truly one of the most horrible diseases out there and it gets very little attention. The thought of it scares me.
  • If you tell me your pain is 10 out of 10 while talking on your cell phone and eating pudding… it’s not. Hitting you in the head with a sledgehammer is a 10.
  • No, I’m not going to stop treating the guy in the next room who’s blood pressure just tanked and is getting close to enjoying 300 joules to the chest, so I can get you a warm blanket. You’ll survive.
  •  Medical power of attorney. Yes, have one people unless you want to trust aunt Sally to make your medical decisions for you.
  • As you get older, think carefully about your code status (do not resuscitate, etc..). It’s not like the movies. The brain doesn’t survive very long without oxygen. There’s a bunch of vital gunk in the brain (I read that somewhere) that controls some important stuff. Even if we get the ticker running again, the outcome isn’t always desirable.

I think the number one thing I’ve learned so far is how fleeting our time here is. Every day I walk the floor surrounded by people who thought they were going to have a regular, boring day until they got thumped by the cement truck they didn’t see coming. You can’t avoid all the cement trucks… but you can do everything possible to enjoy today.