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 or regret, 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 things 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; when we can’t, our heart breaks because of our limitations. My worst days still live within my mind; 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, who 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 worst 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 day 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 turned quickly into a full code. We did everything in our power to re-start a life, but we soon became acutely aware of the high probability that we may lose our patient. During the final pulse check, we all looked up at the monitor in complete silence…a rhythm suddenly appeared, and pulses returned. We were all in utter disbelief, but we gratefully accepted the gift from above that will sustain us for an entire career. The best shift becomes that “crazy, unbelievable” story that you share with one another, forever bonded as witnesses of a true miracle.
The best and worst days are important because they make us who we are; they define our actions, attitudes, and our experiences. We learn from them; they make us (more) human, and better nurses. They also create stronger and more united teams because best and worst days connect us in a way that most other professions simply cannot.
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: