A 13 Hour Roller Coaster

It’s 8:35pm and I’m pulling into my driveway. I look to the side window and see my dog, Fynn, eagerly awaiting my arrival. He sits there long enough until he hears my car door shut in the garage and then he runs over to the garage door and barks until I open it. Usually, I kick my shoes off in the garage, change clothes in the laundry room and walk into the kitchen where he showers me with kisses for 5 minutes.

Tonight, I was anything but in my normal routine.

Still fully clothed in my work attire and shoes, I sat down on the kitchen floor. I was exhausted. Fynn did his usual greetings and then hurried away waiting for a piece of cauliflower to fall off the counter while dinner was being prepared.

I couldn’t move.

Fynn has three beds (I know), and his favorite bed sits in the kitchen so when meals are being prepped, he can sit in his bed and watch for any scraps to hit the floor. It’s his favorite bed, the only one he really ever sits in, and that night, it was my favorite too. Within moments of sitting on the floor, I felt a rush of exhaustion fade over my entire body and I laid back onto his bed. I put my hand over my head and replayed the day over and over.

When I took the job of being a pediatric oncology nurse in 2017, I knew there would be a mixture of good days and hard days. When you think of childhood cancer, I’m sure the word “good day” doesn’t come to your mind, but I can assure you that we do have good days. We have impromptu parties, we sing, we dance, we dress up, we play tag, we bond and we form relationships that nobody could truly ever understand unless you’re in it. The good days are what keep me and my dream job from becoming anything but that. As you all probably expect, we have hard days, too. We hold puke buckets, we wipe tears, we console families, we make really really hard decisions and we administer toxic chemicals in hopes of chasing cancer out of their little bodies.

You can’t experience one without the other in this profession.

Being a nurse isn’t difficult. Being a good nurse is manageable. But being a great nurse requires a lot of sacrifice. I took an unwritten oath when I became a nurse that I would be nothing less than a great nurse, and I took another unwritten oath in 2017 that although I would be doing the most difficult job in my career, I would maintain being a great nurse. I would make the sacrifices necessary to provide the best care to every patient I came in contact with. I would keep my emotions in the elevator and when I went home at night, I’d know I could sleep because even though I might have had a shorter lunch, I wouldn’t bring medications late, miss an important symptom or have my patient wait on me.

Pediatric oncology requires great nursing. You cannot survive this job just being a nurse or a good nurse. Sacrifice is likely the top of my vocabulary. Exhaustion might be the second word. And if I had to guess, the next few words out of my mouth if you asked me about my career, I’d tell you it’s the best in the world.

When I think of my career, I think of exhaustion. I think of being on a 13 hour roller coaster. When you’re first buckled in and the cart starts to move, you think “this is going to be a good day” and just as you start relaxing, you hit your first major drop. You’re flying by people who are watching your cart dip, and just as you scream for air, you level back out and begin breathing again. Repeat that for 13 hours and you have pediatric oncology nursing in a day.

But when I think about my career, I also think about the selfless nurses all over the world, that continue to show up despite seeing some really hard things. The selfless, exhausted nurses that care for sick children all day, and then go home and care for their own. I think of how incredibly lucky we are to form bonds that I don’t believe are formed in other areas of nursing and how patients and their families become our family, too. I think about the children, who experience more heartache, illness and devastation that you could EVER imagine, but still continue to fight. And I think of the moms, dads, grandparents and siblings who sacrifice all of what they know, to show up to the fight they never asked for.

It’s perfectly normal that I love my career path with every fiber of my being, while still being exhausted after I get off the rollercoaster. It’s ok that on the car ride home, I sit in silence and reflect. It’s ok that sometimes when I clock out, I stay for 30 more minutes to play uno flip, and it’s ok if I sometimes want to leave 5 hours before I’m allowed to.

We are not robots. We are not super human. We are nurses who are in love with our job and know that it loves us back.

After what seemed like an hour of laying on the kitchen floor, I finally mustered the energy to get up, walk into the bathroom, and get in the shower. I was exhausted, but I was content. Tomorrow was going to be a new day, and I was thankful for the 10 hours in between.

I didn’t choose this job, this job chose me. But if I had to redo it again, I’d choose this career 10 times again. It might be the longest roller coaster I’ve ever been on, but I’ll keep buckling in.

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