Every morning starts the same. I wake up, sometimes before the alarm goes off, and lie in bed wondering how I’m going to make it through another day. I’ve been doing this job for almost five years, not including four years of college. I always get up at six. I lie there and wonder frantically is there anything I could do to avoid getting up. I always know the answer though.
I drag myself out of bed and hate myself. I check my phone, scroll through my social media apps, hating everyone who isn’t a nurse. This feeling is especially strong at the weekends. I shuffle to the kitchen and greet my dogs, wishing I could summon up even a quarter of the enthusiasm they’re showing me. I eat breakfast and mope. I’m a real foodie but breakfast before work is always bland and unsatisfying, just another task to tick off my list.
I dress quickly, pausing to hate my body, to hate the way it looks in my uniform. On better days, I will make an effort. I will slide contact lenses onto my sore eyeballs and paint my face up. Some mornings I can barely manage to brush my hair.
I am quiet on the short drive to my workplace. I am giving myself my pep talk. I am reminding myself of all the good things I have in my life. My loved ones are safe and well. I am healthy. I am not one of them. I only have to get through thirteen hours. I will not, I can not, think about the next few shifts and how I’ll work thirty-nine hours, three days in a row. I can only get through one day, one hour, at a time.
Three times since my shift has begun, three times someone has asked me a question I have no fucking idea how to answer. I knit my brow, look thoughtful and wonder will today be the day my colleagues realise that I’m a fraud, a fraud who doesn’t have a clue how she ever made it out of college, never mind land a job as an outwardly competent nurse. Two times I’ve gotten my hopes up, thinking that my back was sore enough to warrant going home early and a trip to my GP. Four times four different patients have told me nursing is a “vocation” and they can tell I love it. I loathe it, oh I loathe it. It is half ten, I have been working non-stop since eight. I go for a cup of coffee and keep my smile in place. I keep it in place while I sip my coffee, while I batten down a panic attack when ALL I WANT TO DO IS SCREAM MY HEAD OFF AND WONDER HOW MANY MORE YEARS I WILL HAVE TO DO THIS FOR. I finish my coffee and go back to work.
The afternoon proves to be as challenging as ever, throwing up three patients with projectile vomiting, two high temperatures and one man desperate to maim all the staff with his walking stick. I smile as I hand out anti-sickness tablets. I smile as I sponge down my patient with the temperature. I smile with my colleagues as we avoid the swinging walking stick. I smile when the man old enough to be my great-grandfather swats my bottom and makes a lewd suggestion. I smile even though I feel violated, even though I want to scream in his face and throttle him. I smile because if I don’t smile I will cry.
I take a break and try to join in the conversations with the other nurses, wondering how they could possibly love their job. I drink another cup of coffee and wonder what’s wrong with me.
I am back on the floor just in time to deal with the family members. I stand and nod and murmur soft words of understanding while they bitch and moan at me. I make my eyes wide and agree with their utterly ridiculous complaints. I tell them I will report their concerns to management. I don’t know who I hate more, the families with their ridiculous and aggressive complaints, or myself for tolerating being spoken to that way. Fraud, fraud, fraud, my brain shouts. This shouting has resulted in a headache that sits right behind my eyes.
I dole out more drugs and dream a little about the man I love. I wonder if he loved me back would the day be any better. I sit down at long last, feeling the veins throb in my legs, another side effect of being a nurse, rounding out the trilogy of dry hands and chapped lips. I work through the mound of paperwork, never ending paperwork that just seems to grow. I try and ignore the comments from other staff about how nice it is for me to sit down. They don’t get it, and they never will. Paper work is 99% of nursing work these days. I am the only nurse I know who doesn’t hate it. I don’t have to be a fraud when I do my paper work. I rest my feet and that god-awful smile I wear as part of my uniform.
It’s six in the evening and I have another two hours to go. The danger zone, I have privately christened it. It’s a known fact amongst health care workers that the worst things that can go wrong will always go wrong after office hours, when senior management have gone home. I try to ignore the feeling of panic by smiling a little brighter. I talk to my patients, hating how high-pitched and false my voice sounds. I try, I try so hard to remain kind and to have a word for each of them. My misery is not their fault and I will work hard to banish any trace of it, even with the really difficult, horrible, fucked-up people I have to nurse.
I go to the nice old man whose family never bother to visit him. He is so pathetically grateful for the chat that it fills me with an infuriating sense of rage, a rage I long to unleash on his family. But, of course, they’re never there. I give him a quick hug and stifle the urge to sob at the cruelty, the fucking unfairness that’s bestowed on good people. I wish there was more I could do. I wish things were different. I smile brightly as I wish him a goodnight.
I greet the night staff like I might a long lost lover, aware that for the first time in thirteen hours, my smile is genuine. I handover care, remembering at least fifteen different things I have forgotten to do.
I go home and cry in the shower. I cry with frustration, with rage, with self-pity. I have a glass of wine I know I’ll regret and go to bed, but I don’t sleep. I lie awake and dread the next shift, where it starts all over again.
Cover image courtesy of Michael Havens via Flickr
Read more about the joys of nursing here.