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Nursing: Is it your Calling or your Kryptonite?

This is a guest article contributed by American Nurses Association California member, Teresa Martin RN, AMFT.

Why are we Caregiving Machines?

I’m a nurse.

And nurses don’t lie, cheat, or steal.

They breed that out of you in nursing school. They also tap into your basic nature as a caregiver and use it to build you into a caregiving machine.

My first “patient,” before I even went to nursing school, has been my guiding light. I will never forget her name, what she looked like, how she sounded, or how her skin felt. I will never forget the single most important lesson she taught me. There are things outside of our control, like the possibility of insidious disease. And there are things we have absolute control over, like how we care for one another.

Her wisdom continues to guide me as a caregiver, especially now, as nurses are called to action over and over. We give and we give. But why? I just can’t put my finger on it. Especially this year. Two hundred white shoes were placed on the steps of the White House at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — representing the nurses who died in the line of duty. Fifteen months in, the numbers are in the thousands worldwide. We’re dying on the front lines. We don’t have adequate supplies to protect us from this fate. A vaccine has come, but not to everyone, to fight a mutated virus. But how do nurses respond? We volunteer to give care at natural disasters in our “free time,” we work extra shifts to relieve some of the burden from other nurses, we quarantine apart from our families. Our patients, are our “everything.” We will have the hard conversations. We will hold your dying hand. We will fight for your life.

I wrote many poems to explore how I felt about being a nurse over the last fifteen months. It was almost easier to focus on just one year instead of the entire career choice. Nurses were hit hard. The losses we are witnessing have become almost too many to grieve. This death toll, and its impact on us all, will be the legacy our community, country, and world will have to reckon with.