There are a lot of jokes about nurses, considering that the kind of work we do often involves bodily processes and orifices that don't make for good dinner conversation (except in my opinion.)
What you don't hear so much about, at least not from outside the circle of nursing, is the great lessons in humility you experience day after day, sometimes every hour of your shift.
My job is in a very rural area, serving close to a 100,000 people who have spent generations living on conventional wisdom. Often that leads to poor health choices, low compliance with prescribed health regimens, and equals frustration for all members of the health care team. When I took this job, very aware of the area in which I'd be working (an area I grew up in), I was afraid. Afraid that I would lack compassion. Afraid that I wouldn't be able to see past the disease process, past the poor choices and unfortunate events leading to this person lying in the bed in front of me. Afraid that my middle-class, highly-educated judgment would get in the way of the empathy integral to the heart of nursing.
I'm grateful, and humbled, to say that I was wrong.
Do I still feel frustrated when I see people out in the community making poor health choices? When I see parents chain-smoking in the car with their children? Absolutely.
But when I've had substance abusers overdosed and diabetics losing another portion of their foot, I'm finding that the compassion I thought I would struggle to find is eager to come to me, eager to show my patients that it doesn't matter how many times they've misstepped or screwed up, there is always a chance, a hope for a new beginning.
The humility is everywhere. When I enter a patient's room at 1am and find their loved one quietly sobbing in the corner. When a proud diabetic admits they don't understand their disease, but they're finally ready to. When the bereaved spouse of a marriage older than my parents graciously bids farewell to their partner.
I grab this humility and I hold it close. Nursing is a profession where it's easy to become jaded, where patients stop being people and start becoming just another insert diagnosis here.
I don't want that.
So in the still of the night, when the darkness is forgiving and offers a screen of protection for pride, when patients and families are at their most vulnerable, I stop and I listen and I feel. And then I do my best, day after day, hour after hour, to remember.