Before My Shift, I Decide Who to Be

Content courtesy of Verizon.

There’s a quiet, magical buzz just outside the hospital. In the mornings, before the sun rises, I can feel it. Some days it’s almost friendly. Other times it’s ominous. Or just still.

That stillness is so strange, knowing that just inside those doors is a different world, churning in chaos, the worst and best moments of human lives happening within. But out here, the world sounds normal.

Brooke Bettis Twomey, RN

The birds chirp each morning as they always have regardless of the date, the current news, the state of the world. They don’t know they sing just outside of a hospital. But I’ve started to wonder if they might know more than me.

They know that whatever happens today, they will be here tomorrow — that today doesn’t matter.

If I could will myself to fully believe that, my life might be a little easier. But I can’t. I have a purpose today. So, I go on in, sighing at the chirping birds and imagining the day ahead.

Before my shift starts, I always pick three things to “be” that day. I often choose to be whatever I wasn’t the day before. “Efficient, thoughtful, calm,” I repeat over and over again in my head with each step as I walk in.

“Warm, a good listener, connected.” Step, step, step.

“Sharp, alert, fast.” Step, step, step. Whatever I need to be.

Some days, the most I could muster is, “Awake, not dumb, not late.” It is a command as much as it is a prayer.

I tried not to pray for an easy day. On the painful, endless days at least I learned something. I could stomach it better knowing that I would never repeat some moments ever again, because now I know better.

“You never want to be the nurse with the white cloud,” my husband says.

As hard as it is, it’s a blessing to be the nurse with the dark cloud. Because when things get scary, that nurse has seen it all. That’s the nurse you want by your bed. The battle-worn. The gut-listening. Step, step, step.

And in the doors I glide, expecting the usual greeting. A smile for my coworkers, an exaggerated head nod because my mask is covering my smile. A flicker of bravery on each of their faces as I pass the receptionist, the nurse assistant, the social worker. Always scanning and over-interpreting their facial expressions. Did something happen yesterday? Was that patient ok? Do we have a new one coming in that I haven’t heard about yet?

But we don’t ask — not first thing in the morning. We have an unspoken rule to allow ourselves a moment to settle in, to breathe, to mentally prepare. I’m grateful for it. I take a breath and relax my shoulders before I turn on the lights at the nurses’ station.

I have a purpose today.

“Patient, smart, strong.” Flick.

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