How It All Started
“My name is Stacey, and I’m going to be a nurse when I grow up.” This was how I introduced myself to my first ever classmates in kindergarten. My classmates wanted to be firefighters, ballerinas, and baseball players. But I knew even then what I know today – I was meant to be an RN.
In the twenty years that have elapsed I have worked tirelessly toward this goal. In high school I started volunteering at my local skilled nursing facility so that I could get used to interacting with patients. It was through this volunteer work that I fell in love with caring for the elderly patient population.
My grandmother had a major stroke shortly after I graduated high school and started my general education at community college. She’d had two smaller strokes before but had not been debilitated by them. Unfortunately, this third stroke left her completely unable to care for herself.
It became clear that my grandfather did not have the strength or energy to provide adequate care in their home, and so the family made the difficult decision to move Gran into long-term care instead of discharging her home.
The transition to long-term care was a difficult one for her and Grandpa both. After over 50 years of marriage, they were forced to sleep under separate roofs. I drove Gramps out to the home several times a week so that they could spend time together, and our visits as a family were always wonderful.
Toward the end of my grandfathers life, he reflected on our long evenings on the patio there as some of the nicest times in his last years.
During Gran’s two-year stay, she was looked after by the most wonderful nurses I have encountered. These women worked tirelessly to give one on one attention to all of their patients, no matter how many patients they had. None of them treated Gran like a helpless old lady, but rather they empowered her with knowledge about her conditions and made sure that she was the quarterback of her own care team.
By encouraging Gran to call the shots in this way, they gave her the gift of humanity right up to the very end. Their compassion, kindness and patience were unrivaled, and I was inspired by their dedication. When I finish nursing school, it is my goal to make my patients and their families feel the way that Gran’s nurses made us feel. They are to this day my shining example of who I am working to become when I graduate from nursing school.
When Gran was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Gramps lost all motivation to care for himself. When I got to the house to pick him up for visits, he had rarely eaten or showered. His doctor chalked it up to depression at the prospect of losing Gran so soon, and suggested that someone may want to keep an eye on him for a while. After a series of family discussions, it was decided that I would give up my apartment and move into the house to help look after Gramps.
Nursing and Life
I can’t sugarcoat it – the days were long in those six months. I would wake up at four thirty to fix breakfast and lunch for Gramps and myself, before showering and getting ready for work. After getting Gramps situated for the day I would leave for work. After clocking out at 3:30 I had exactly 30 minutes to make it to campus, park, and get to class where I would remain until 6:30pm. From there I would head home, fix supper for Gramps, and then do homework at the table while we talked about our days until it was time for bed.
Every other evening I would take Gramps out to visit with Gran, and I’d typically leave them alone in her room while I studied or worked on assignments for school. I look back on that time as being incredibly bittersweet. Bitter, because I was run so ragged and spread so thin, but sweet because those were the last months I had with them and I would not trade them for anything.
My grandmother died the day after Valentine’s Day. We had plenty of warning, and her hospice nurses made sure that she was absolutely comfortable when she passed. I expected Gramps to break down when we got the call, but it was I who broke down while he remained stoic. In the days and weeks that followed, he ate less and less.
Our exercise routine, which had consisted of arm work with resistance bands and walking halfway down the block and back, dwindled as he refused to participate. He no longer had anything to say during our evening chats, as he withdrew further into himself. One March morning I awoke to find blood in the bathroom and Gramps looking extremely unwell. Without knowing the details of what was happening but recognizing the seriousness of the situation, I called for an ambulance.
The paramedic who took my grandfather treated him with the utmost respect and kindness, calling him sir and offering him an arm to hold for stability while walking out to the rig. After noticing his World War II hat, another of the medics asked my grandfather his rank before saluting him and expressing great admiration. This would be the last time I saw my grandfather smile. A week into a hospital stay for diverticulitis, my grandfather had a massive stroke and died within hours. It was his birthday.
The devastation of losing my grandparents back to back was almost more than I could stand. I felt stronger than ever that I needed to work hard and continue on in school, but almost could not muster the energy to keep going. The next several months were one foot in front of the other while I grieved for what I had lost and while I dealt with the reality that my grandparents would never see me achieve my dreams.
Eventually, though, I pulled through. I completed my prerequisites for nursing school and then got accepted to an excellent program. While on the waitlist, which took about a year, I continued to volunteer with hospice patients and learn as much as possible from my job coordinating medical care for work comp patients.
It turns out that this experience was even more helpful than I could have anticipated; I am rarely surprised by what I see in the clinical setting, and thus far have not come across any topics or concepts that I’ve not already touched on in my work or volunteer life.
As I write this, I am on summer break following my first quarter of a two-year RN program. I am counting down the days to fall quarter, when I can get back to doing what I love and putting everything I have into nursing school.
All of the nurses that I know warned me that nursing school is exhausting, stressful and demanding. They said that I would be stressed about money and low on sleep. They warned me that I would be working harder than I ever have.
What nobody told me, though, was how much fun I would have. Nobody told me how gratifying it would be to have my first patients or to be able to answer questions and provide care. Nobody told me that every day would be a new and interesting experience, or that I could learn so much in such a short time.
I was prepared for nursing school to be hard – and it is- but I have never loved anything more or been more certain that I am in the right place.
As I continue in my journey to become the best RN I can be – to become the kind of nurse that I would want for myself or my loved ones, I think often about my grandparents. I am deeply saddened that they are not here to see me succeed. And still it is so comforting knowing how very proud they would have been of their granddaughter, Stacey, the nurse.