Nursing: A Purpose

By Lyndsey C. Deal


I remember the first time I really decided that I wanted to be a nurse. At the time, I was in my early twenties. I had dropped out of college and was working a part-time, minimum-wage job. I was living with my mother and at the time, I was just kind of skating through life. I knew at that time that I needed to do something with my life but had no clue what it was. My biggest worry was what plans I would have for the next weekend. My mother had recently given me an ultimatum. She’d said, “Go back to school or start paying rent.” As paying rent while working a part-time job would obviously put a damper on my fun-having days, the decision was a very simple one to make. I was going back to school.

            I think I originally applied to nursing school because I didn’t know what else to do at the time. I had recently dropped out of school at a university. I decided this time to go back to the local community college so that I could keep my part-time job and still live with my mom.  Nursing was one of the few options available that would allow me to graduate in two years, get a job right out of school and make a fairly decent amount of money. I still wasn’t very serious about life but it was a start.

            Then, I got the news. Mom had gone to her primary care provider for a mammogram and they had discovered a lump in her breast. They did a biopsy and found out the lump was cancerous. She was sent to an oncologist and a plastic surgeon. Luckily, the lump wasn’t too large and so my mother was given two different options. The doctors told her that she could either just have the lump removed or they could do a breast reduction, the latter of which would excise a larger portion of breast tissue and ensure that all the cancerous cells had been removed.

            Somewhere in the midst of all this, the doctors thought they found something in the other breast. My maternal grandmother had breast cancer twice. She had a mastectomy on one side and then had to go back several years later and have the other breast removed when they found another lump. Another biopsy was performed on my mother. To the relief of everyone involved, the cells were benign. However, my mother already had her mind made up at that point. She would not take another chance on having to endure the same heartache again. No longer satisfied with having a breast reduction, my mother opted to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery. I didn’t blame her. We had all been through it twice already with my grandmother and I couldn’t ask my mom to do it again. I went to numerous doctors’ appointments with her and tried to be as supportive a daughter as I could be. I couldn’t help but notice the nurses at her doctor’s office and how involved they were in her care.

            Then came the surgery. Mom had bilateral mastectomy and had breast expanders placed so she could go back later and get implants for her reconstructive surgery. I sat there in her hospital room and watched the staff come and go. The nurse came in the room and did something with my mother’s IV. I wondered at how skillful and knowledge-filled she seemed. I watched the compassion, tenderness, and patience she showed my mother. I listened to her carefully worded discharge instructions and saw the sincerity of her smile and how it showed in her eyes. Then, something suddenly touched my heart and filled it with awe. “This,” I said to myself, “is truly an angel from heaven.” I instantly knew this was the profession I wanted to pursue. I wanted to show someone the same kindness my mother had been shown. I wanted to touch someone’s hear the same way mine had been touched.

            When I got my acceptance letter into nursing school, I knew it was meant to be. I had never wanted anything more in my whole life. Failure was not an option for me. Nursing school was a struggle but in the end, I was able to graduate and pass the NCLEX. I got my first job on a nephrology unit and met some wonderful mentors along the way.

            What I didn’t realize (and what no one told me) is that the struggle wasn’t over after nursing school. I learned that everything they’d told us was true. They teach you just enough in school not to kill someone. The rest you learn on the job; and you learn a lot on the job. It was very hard for me. I’ve always been a tenderhearted person. I had to learn to toughen up a little when I became a nurse. I had to learn not to take everything I heard to heart. I left work discouraged on quite a few mornings and cried the entire way home.

            Nursing was definitely not what I had expected it to be. It is not always heart-touching and awe-inspiring. Sometimes it’s answering the patient who has rang their call bell the fifth time in twenty minutes. Sometimes it’s giving pain medicine to the patient who is sitting up in their bed, laughing, eating and playing games on their phone who still rates their pain at 9/10 even after 2mg of Dilaudid. Sometimes nursing is even being cursed at within an inch of your life by the little confused Alzheimer’s patient, whom you keep trying to remind yourself that they don’t realize what they are doing.

            Do I ever regret becoming a nurse? Sometimes I joke with my co-workers and say, “Why on earth did I choose this life?” but in all honesty, I have never regretted my decision. Yes, we all have some days when it seems like everything we do is in vain. However, to regret this journey is to regret all of the wonderful experiences we have gained along the way. To regret being a nurse is to ignore all the miracles we’ve had the privilege to bear witness to. Nursing is holding the hand of the dying patient as they make their journey from this world to the next. Nursing is comforting a crying child. It’s watching a patient that everyone thought was brain dead learn to talk again. We are healers. We give strength to the weak. We give hope to the hopeless. We mend the broken. It’s what we were born to do

            I will always remember that nurse that first gave my life purpose. I don’t remember her name. I don’t remember what she looked like; but I will always remember her kindness. I will always remember what she did for my mother. Above all, I will always remember that she gave my life the direction that I had been praying for. It was a gift far greater than she will ever know. On my difficult days, I remember her and I know that like her, if I have touched even one life, then I have made a difference.  If my kindness, knowledge and skill have helped one person, then I have served my purpose.