Aleathia Drehmer is nothing like Nurse Jackie. Yes, she knows, this is disappointing, but she does work in the ER and moonlights as some sort...read more of writer. Mostly these days she hides out in the woods to escape the sounds of technology. You can find her adventures at www.aleathiadrehmer.wordpress.com
BEFORE I BECAME A NURSE, I loved to watch dramas and real-life programming like House, ER, and Trauma in the ER. While I was in school I thought these types of shows would at least shed some light on what I was in for when I got into the real world of nursing, but they didn't do anything besides give me a false sense of expectation. Nothing could prepare me for what I was about to do. Nothing could stand up to the Florence Nightingale image I had created in my head. I have been a nurse for nine years spending seven of them in a small town ER that services an extensive rural community. When I was a teenager and my mother was very ill, I nursed her back to health and through a severe car accident and two subsequent brain surgeries. It was a lot to handle at that age while still going to school, getting good grades, and taking care of my brother. I worked part-time to help pay the bills. I didn’t have much of a social life, but I came from the family background that you “did what you had to do” to make it all come out like it should. In my twenties, living in Seattle, I did home health care with an older woman I had worked part-time with at Starbucks. Eventually, that led to me working in a group home taking care of the developmentally disabled. I did that for over a year and discovered how humbling life really was. It gave me a huge sense of compassion that I thought I had already gained, but realized I had not. After I graduated nursing school, I spent the summer working as a care partner for a woman dying of cancer. I worked in her home on the overnight shift. I helped her to the bathroom, rubbed lotion on her legs, and gave her pain medication. It was the easiest and hardest job I had ever done. I did it because I wanted to be exposed to the feeling of watching strangers die and to understand what it felt like to carry that burden. Also I wanted to get used to working the night shift. In the end it was harder to work the overnights than it was dealing with death. It was most definitely sad, but I had never been an advocate for end of life suffering and poor quality of life, so I looked at this person's passing as a blessing.
...read more (2/3)The next two years were spent on the surgical floor. I learned a lot there medically, but the biggest lessons were life lessons, more about the human existence than anything else. Having to deal with patients from all different kinds of backgrounds and educations can be challenging. It put me up against values that differed from mine. I had to learn to be generous with my patience when dealing with the people I cared for, as well as staff. In my time on the surgical floor I had to deal with hospital politics, union bullying, incompetent nurses, addicted nurses, death, hierarchy of staff, coercion by nursing management, and the continued feeling of being led to believe that I was losing my skills. Many times I was set up for failure by my peers. I nearly quit, questioning whether or not I could live in such a dog-eat-dog environment that I didn’t enjoy and didn’t have the backbone for. At the apex of it, I decided to transfer to the ER. In the early years of my time in the ER it wasn’t that busy. We would hustle until midnight and then have the occasional straggler until 7:00 a.m. It was a good gig. I regained my skill set that I had lost working on the surgical floor and in some ways I gained a big jump in confidence as well. About two years into it, another local hospital lost their trauma surgeon, rendering their facility unable to specialize in trauma. Before, all traumas went to that hospital so we never saw any patients from serious accidents, gunshots, or stabbings. When they closed their trauma center, we became the closest hospital to take trauma for all the area north of them. This increased our business by double and it also increased our acuity. We were seeing diagnosis that we, as nurses, had never before encountered. We had to dig deeper into everything we had learned but not needed to use for a long time. We worked twice as hard with half the staff that was needed. There is a misconception that a small ER won’t see major traumas. Our facility had been considered a band-aid station for many years, now we field just about everything you can imagine. The hardest part often is that because we are a community hospital, we see the same folks over and over again and eventually something bad happens to them and it can be heartbreaking. ...read more (3/3)Over the years I have worked my way up to head night shift nurse and I am often in charge of my entire ER. I never thought when I graduated that I would end up in this position and I never thought I would love the rush of a very busy night filled with critical patients. It has its ups and downs as does any job. I do the best that I can every day I’m there, but I don’t think I’m anything special. There are better nurses than me, for sure. But every now and then I get reminded, by strangers and family, that the job I do is tremendous. I save lives … whether physically or socially or mentally. I save lives. To me, it just feels like doing what I have to do to make it all come out right.