LEARNING TO HEAL
My days start early and in a rush. I get up, kiss my dog, walk my dog, make coffee and walk to the hospital while eating breakfast. At nights, I go to bed feeling tired and accomplished, earning a decent salary for the first time in my life. May has been a cold and wet month in Baltimore - days of gray skies and thunderstorms, making this one of the longest streak of rain in Baltimore’s history. On the upside, the gray skies have made it easier to spend my days in the hospital without feeling like summer is passing by as I run from the utility to the medication then back to my patient’s room.
Lately, I have been fully entrenched in the Johns Hopkins Hospital's new graduate nursing orientation that has me running from critical care classes to unit meetings. Studies show that the best way for hospitals to retain new nurses is by offering support and guidance. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) indicates that the retention rate for new nurses enrolled in a residency program is 95.6 percent. In contrast, the retention rate in hospitals without a residency is only 70 percent. An evidence-based residency program increases skills and proficiency of new nurses, turning them into competent clinical practitioners after a period of 12 months.
Over the years, I have thought a lot about what attracted me to healthcare after studying journalism. This week, the answer felt clearer: I find medicine to be authentic and messy. It’s the antithesis of the perfectly curated, tactfully edited and beautifully enhanced photos that we share via Instagram or Facebook. These censored images give the illusion that our lives are effortless and blissful at the same time.
In contrast, illness forces us to uncover these masks. We end up in hospitals when our bodies start to fail. At present, most hospitalized patients in the U.S. suffer from comorbidities, making their hospital course lengthy and complicated. During their hospital stay, many of these patients succumb to infections, losing independence and control over basic bodily functions such as going to the bathroom or eating. Instead, they urinate in follies or get fed with feeding tubes.
Hence, the path from illness to recovery is often full of frustration and setbacks. Healing can be a dark place - full of monotony, dependence, and stagnation. It can test our convictions, relationships, and mortality.
And there is no filter that is good enough to mask or beautify these images. Illness makes us fragile and vulnerable, which is very human. As a nurse, the level of intimacy I am allowed with a patient that I just met is unlike anything I have experienced.
This morning, like many other nurses all around the world, I walk into a patient’s room to do a basic full body assessment. As my eyes follow the fresh incision running straight down my patient's chest, I check for redness and swelling, which may indicate an infection. I make sure the incision across her sternum is intact, holding the new heart that was transplanted a few days ago in place. Then I reach for my stethoscope and listen to her new heartbeat, thinking life cannot get any more transparent and inspiring - at least for the moment.