I think part of the problem is you’re not used to seeing it. A nurse sitting down, I mean. There’s a reason I put a step counter app on my phone. It helps me feel justified when I’m scarfing down a couple of donuts at 4 pm because I’m starving from a skipped lunch. Point being, the miles I walk on any given day at the patient bedside would trump just about any exercise routine I might try to begin. Between back and forth trips to a room or quick dashes to the pharmacy, I definitely burn my fair share of calories. What I don’t do a lot of, in comparison, is sit. And even if I am sitting, I’m usually charting. Yet, that’s not the moment a passerby will catch me.
If you’ve been a nurse any length of time then you know that nursing has its own cruel version of Murphy’s Law. This happenstance will mean that uttering the word “quiet” makes crazy things happen, or that saying you’re all caught up will make the stool hit the fan. It’s that peculiar nuisance that makes your face itch like crazy when you’re fully donned in PPE, or your patient’s blood pressure plummet right after you lose your one working IV. You know what else it is? It’s the fact that the moment you sit down to take a break two things will happen. Either a call light will go off, or someone who isn’t working the bedside will walk by.
Ahhhh. You see the nurse, phone in hand, leg propped up. My, they almost look like they’re on vacation. I totally get it. First thoughts might be, “Wow, guess nobody works here,” or perhaps “They need something to do!” It does look that way. But I wonder what might happen if we all put ourselves in the shoes of another before making snap judgments in haste?
I think you’d find out some things you might not know about your nurse. The propped leg? Maybe that’s to rest and alleviate pain in their bad knee that aches something awful after 13 hours on their feet. I find as a middle-aged woman that my body no longer agrees with how young I desire to be, but instead reacts like someone much older, especially after lifting the weight of others for three days straight.
Did you consider the phone use is a quick text home, checking on a sick child or a parent who’s fallen? It’s easy to forget in a population that spends the majority of its time caring for others, but nurses have families with needs of their own. As your nurse is giving 100% to the sick people under their care, their hearts still cry internally for whatever is going on at home. But you know what? Even if that nurse was checking their social media, it’s the first time they’ve relaxed all day, what, with keeping that post-op patient who’s been circling the drain from buying a one way ticket to heaven.
I think we forget the emotional stress and physical strain nurses go through on any given shift. It’s easy to forget the weighty stress of keeping someone alive. We miss the fact that the bedside nurse can spend hours at one person’s side, forgoing their own needs, to alleviate whatever ails the one under their care. But those are the unseen things. Those are the hidden gems a nurse performs each shift. They just see it as part of the job, and they certainly won’t brag. You’ll never know how they made that suicidal woman feel special for the first time in her life, or how they intervened for the safety of their patient, preventing what could have been a deadly event. You won’t see those secret steps a nurse makes each day, but you will see them sitting at the desk, apparently with nothing to do.
Maybe next time we see that nurse in that brief moment of respite and much needed rest we can think something like, “Good for them. They need that moment of stillness to recharge for the difficulties ahead.” Because, you see, nurses are like a vessel, pouring out so much of themselves, but as everyone knows, any container eventually runs dry. So perhaps the next time you see a nurse sitting you should just know that they’re there for a refill before the next round of serving begins.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on briegowen.com.
Featured Image by Bill Oxford