Close your eyes and think about the worst shift that you ever survived; I use the word “survive”, because after such a shift, one can feel like they have been through Hell and back in what seems like a never-ending 12.5 hours… who am I kidding, we are nurses, it’s more like 13-14 hours! My worst shifts weren’t the “busy” ones that happened because we were short-staffed, didn’t get a break, or got swamped with admissions… those happen all the time and we (just) get through them. No, the worst shifts stay with you; you remember how they made you feel… sadness, self-doubt, anger, or frustration… or all of those things piled into one really crappy day.
We remember the painful things; it’s not by choice. As nurses, we often bear witness to horrific events that occur every day, in every city or town. We see car accidents, victims of violence, drownings, child abuse/neglect, etc. We try to help in any way that we can, and when we can’t, our heart breaks because of our limitations. My worst shifts will never be forgotten… I remember the bruised, emaciated body of a little boy who was kept in a cage in his adoptive parent’s basement as we tirelessly worked to resuscitate him; we did everything that we could, but it was too late. I remember caring for a teenage girl who attempted suicide by hanging, and was brought back to a life of complete debilitation. I remember providing end-of-life care to a young girl who fought a courageous, but impossible, battle with cancer, and once she peacefully passed from this life, with her parents and siblings at her side, her mother’s heart (literally) stopped beating, and we had to immediately go into life-saving mode, call a “code blue” and start CPR on mom, right outside of her deceased daughter’s room. We brought her broken heart back, whether it wanted to continue to beat or not. I still think about that family many years later. I will never forget that day and the lesson it taught me that one can truly die from a broken heart.
Now… take a breath, close your eyes, and think about your best shift at work…did it inspire you to be a better nurse, or a better colleague…or a better person? The best shifts are not the ones that are uneventful, or dare I say, “quiet”. No, the best shifts are often unexpectedly extraordinary. A “best” shift is created when you are working with a great team and all the stars are aligned in your favor for a positive outcome. I remember one of my best days… I was an active responder during a Rapid Response that quickly escalated into a full code. We did everything in our power to re-start a life, but we soon became painfully aware of the high probability that we may lose our (very) young patient. It seemed inevitable, but during the final pulse check, as we all looked up at the monitor in complete silence… a rhythm suddenly appeared, and pulses returned. We coudn’t believe it, but we gratefully accepted this gift from above. The best shift becomes that “crazy, unbelievable” story that you share with one another, forever bonded as witnesses of a true miracle.
“Best” and “worst” shifts are equally important because they define our actions, attitudes, and our experiences as nurses; we learn from them; they make us (more) human, and better nurses. They also create stronger and more unified teams, because best and worst shifts connect us forever. I wish you all best and worst days that will give you the strength and empathy that you need to be compassionate, grateful, and kind to one another.
My article was published on Allnurses.com: