My first nursing job was as a camp nurse the summer I graduated. It seemed like a great way to spend my last free summer while studying for boards. Lots of sun, water, and friends. A week or so after boards (the whole country took a two-day written test on the same days) was the first time I considered quitting nursing. I was shocked at my own emotions.
One afternoon I was napping in my cabin when someone came in screaming for me. They said there had been an accident in the kitchen. As I arrived seconds later, I saw a teenage boy lying face down with his hand clenched in a big floor fan, which was lying beside him. I checked to make sure the fan was unplugged before I touched him. I unclenched his hand and rolled him over. He made some noise as I turned him, but soon realized he wasn't breathing. Nor did he have a pulse.
The other nurse arrived, and we started CPR. Ten minutes later the ambulance arrived and took him away. We heard an hour or so later that he had died. Electrocution. He was seventeen.
It was a pivotal point in my life. I spent weeks rocking myself to sleep doing the CPR count in my head: One and two and three and four...every night. I couldn't get his face out of my head. I was tormented by the fact that everything I knew had failed me. Failed him. I thought maybe I had picked the wrong profession after all. It was my first encounter with losing a patient, and it hurt like hell. It will be 25 years this July--and it still hurts.
We go into nursing to help people. We want to save lives. We want to make a difference.
The first time we find out it doesn't always turn out the way we would like, we have to re-up. We have to make a conscious decision to stick with it and try again. It can be a painful process. But the truth is, people die. Sometimes way too young. Sometimes in horrible ways. Sometimes because we screwed up. It's all a huge load to bear.
A couple weeks after the accident, I had to teach a CPR class to a group of high school campers. It seemed like a cruel joke that I would have to pass on this skill that had failed the only time I had ever used it. However, I did my best to be positive about all they were learning as I shared my own experience. I had five kids in the class, and I knew two of them from home.
That fall one of them saved a choking child she was babysitting, and the other did CPR on her own father when he had a heart attack! To me, that was the affirmation I needed to keep going. I can't save everyone, but I can impact everyone. My own story didn't end well, but I changed two other peoples' stories. And theirs ended great.