I recently watched the movie Defending your Life (again, for at least the 10th time), which is a romantic comedy that came out in the 90’s starring Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks. In the movie, Meryl Streep plays someone who lived an exceptional life on Earth; she was brave and generous in her life, giving of herself, and her love without fear. Albert Brooks, while a good person at heart, was someone who made some bad choices because he allowed fear to rule his life. The concept of the movie is that all who pass (with the exception of children and animals), must stand trial in Judgement City to defend their actions in life; both good and bad. More importantly, the ability to overcome one’s fears was examined in order to be deemed worthy of advancing into the next phase of their existence… or, be sent back down to Earth for a do-over. The plot is complicated by both characters falling in love during their brief time in the afterlife; and Meryl’s character, who was brave and faced her fears in life, was judged to be able to move on; while Albert’s character, was not. Not to worry (spoiler alert), in the end, good ole’ Albert finds the courage to fight to join Meryl in her tram ride to Heaven; and those who had judged him not worthy, saw this act of bravery, and decided to let him stay with Meryl. The end.
This movie always makes me wonder if I would ever be deemed worthy enough to pass into the next phase of existence. I am basically a good person; I’ve made mistakes, sure, but let’s face it, who hasn’t? If I were put on trial today, would I be able to prove that I overcame my personal fears? I would say no, not even close. My fears and anxiety have only grown as I have gotten older. Let’s be honest, we are in trying times right now; between our twitter-happy commander-in-chief, the potential for war with North Korea, the questionable future of the Affordable Care Act in healthcare, climate change and the environment, and having to wait until the end of next year for season 8 of Game of Thrones, our future is uncertain. Of course I realize that losing sleep and worrying over these important issues isn’t actually solving any of those problems, just adding to my neurosis. The best thing that I have going for me is the work that I have done/do as a nurse. Surely, that has to hold a lot of weight for the big guy, am I right?
Nursing is a very demanding and sometimes, thankless job. We care for all patients equally, risking our own health (mental and physical) to work long shifts, 24/7/365; missing holidays/special events/dinner with our families/sleep/bathroom and meal breaks, etc… and that’s just touching the surface. Each day is an unpredictable adventure that brings new challenges and struggles: short staffing due to sick calls, train wreck admissions from the Emergency Department, patients “crashing”, c-diff, isolation precautions… fill in the blank. Are we perfect beings, no, but we work really hard and try our best every single day to care for those in need. Heck, just showing-up is half the battle and deserves some form of recognition; three 12-hour shifts in a row should be bonus points for earning a place in Heaven for sure. But are nurses brave? Abso-freakin-lutely! In New York and New Jersey, nurses were some of the first responders that were in a state of readiness after the 9/11 terror attacks at the World Trade Center; all employees were called into action, waiting for patients that never came; this realization was the most difficult to accept. We were greatly affected after Hurricane Sandy as well; many hospitals were running on generators and managing to run safely to care for patients with limited supplies that were delayed in being replenished due to the inability to receive new deliveries for several days. Many staff were unable to get to work; those who were already there, stayed, praying that their own families were safe and sound at home. A few years ago, nurses were trained to safely care for Ebola patients; that took a lot of courage. Many were nurses who volunteered to be trained, even after a nurse in Texas contracted Ebola after caring for an infected patient. That is what nurses do; we care for those who need us. We must always be in a state of alertness and ready to be called for duty to provide care in any situation. I believe that nurses overcome some degree of fear every day; you walk into your unit never knowing what the next 12+ hours will bring. It’s always a surprise, good or bad. I also believe that nurses help their patients through their fears; when patients are their most vulnerable, and most afraid, it is their nurse that sits beside them, holding their hand, and letting them know that they are not alone. Nurses truly defend and advocate for their patient’s lives every single day. I like to think that in the end, if and when we are called to defend our lives, that is what is most important.