- A New Graduate Nurse’s Story
I was taking pre–med courses on the west coast when my mother was diagnosed with acute leukemia. I immediately finished out my classes, packed up my bags and cat and moved back to the town on the east coast where my parents lived. While my mother was fighting the leukemia, I spent many hours in her hospital room and I learned more about the roles of doctors and nurses. Unlike what I had seen on television, where the doctors were always nearby and available to their patients, my mother’s doctors were seldom present. It was the nurses who spent the most time with my mother in the hospital. I wanted to care and be present for my patients like her nurses. So I decided to become a nurse. I didn’t realize that not all cancer units were like my mother’s where the nurses had time to really care for their patients.
My mother’s attending doctor would visit her bedside once a day. The doctor would generally stand a few feet away from the foot of my mother’s bed and describe my mother’s latest blood counts. The doctor always seemed to keep her distance at the foot of the bed. As my mother’s series of chemotherapy treatments failed to put her in remission, the doctor would describe the next chemotherapy protocol that my mother would endure. My mother wanted desperately to live and she would keep copies of the blood counts her doctor provided her and would insist on trying the next round of chemotherapy, despite the list of grim side effects each seemed to come with. The doctor generally stayed an average of five minutes during these visits.
My mother’s nurses, however, were a constant presence. I had not realized at the time that people are hospitalized primarily for nursing care. My mother was assigned several great nurses, who not only took her vital signs and administered her medications, but who seemed to care about her as a person as well. The nurses seemed to understand how difficult it was for my mother, a very independent person, not to have control over her health. To help her regain control, they provided her with guided visualizations. This was during the mid–eighties so they had her visualize her immune system as Pac–man eating all the cancer cells. My mother liked this because when she did the Pac– man visualizations, she felt she had some control directing her immune system to fight the disease.
The nurses also provided my mother with emotional support. We were not a very physically affectionate family and the nurses encouraged us to give my mother hugs when she was not at risk for infections. They also gave her lots of back rubs. One of the nurses gave my mother a relaxation audiotape, which she listened to for hours, others provided her with poetry books. I believe it was partly the nurses’ physical and emotional care that enabled my mother to live as long and to fight the cancer for as long as she did. During the course of my mother’s illness, she received five rounds of chemotherapy over a period of ten months. Unfortunately her efforts to combat the cancer were unsuccessful and she died of complications of the disease and from the cumulative toxic side effects of the chemotherapy.
After observing all the ways the nurses cared for my mother, I decided this was what I wanted to do and I decided to go to nursing school instead of medical school. I was able to apply my pre–med prerequisite courses to an accelerated nursing program [End Page E16] and I graduated with my bachelors in nursing after 18 months of nursing school.
My nursing program emphasized the importance of viewing the patient as a whole person and not merely viewing them in terms of a particular disease or condition. Nursing school also reinforced how important nurse caring was for patients. I remember one of our exam questions focused on caring. The question was about a nurse walking into a patient’s room and finding the patient...