This is a guest post from Pamela Lewis-Varon, RN. Pam is a proud Northeastern University graduate and devoted nurse and daughter.
We often wear many different hats as we go through life. Most people wear the mom, dad, spouse, daughter and/or son hats as they wander down their paths of life. One hat that I have found I never really take off is my nurse's cap. When you graduate, get your nursing pin (no one wears nurses’ caps anymore) and pass your boards, you become more than just a professional nurse, practicing in the many different fields that we are blessed to have to choose from. You become the family nurse. You may patch up bumps and bruises as a mom or dad. That’s the easy stuff. It gets tougher when your parents get older and they begin to look to you for advice and guidance. I have played this difficult role in my family since 1991.
It starts off easy. You may go to doctor appointments to give your support, but as time passes, you become the one that has to absorb, comprehend and be ready to explain what the doctor has just laid before you. My father has never been a healthy man, and I have spent many, many hours explaining what is happening to my mother. I have talked to countless nurses, doctors and specialists through the years. I can tell you that it is the hardest nursing job I've ever had. It is so difficult to walk the fine line between being a nurse and being a daughter. You see things from many different perspectives. There is your own perspective, the nurses', the doctors' and the family member in the hospital bed for whom you are desperately trying to make the right decision.
My father made me his health proxy in 1997. He told people that I was the nurse, and "she knows what I want." I had always dreaded the day that his proxy was enacted. That fear recently became reality. When a broken limb became a swirl of confusion, I suddenly got a phone call and "tag you’re it." It becomes a whirlwind of consenting for surgery and anesthesia over the phone. My world stopped when a geriatric specialist called me and said, "You have some decisions to make." My nurse-self knew what that meant, but the daughter in me fell apart. I called a family meeting. I was determined not to do this alone, even though the ultimate decision was mine. So, I grabbed my father's living will and up to Boston I drove. My nurse-self knew what was coming, and I knew what I had to face. The daughter in me didn't want to believe this was happening. Then the doctor said those three letters no one wants to hear: DNR. I was fortunate enough to have had that talk with my father years before. When this becomes a reality, you are then torn between what you need to do and what you have to do. At that point you want to take off the nurse's cap and stomp on it. You ask yourself, "Why do have I have to possess this medical knowledge? Is this why I studied so hard to become a nurse?"
In the end, I did sign that DNR and, fortunately, it has not been necessary. When my father's confusion lifted, and his procedure was done, the staff asked him about the DNR I had signed and what did he say? "She's my daughter, she's the nurse and she was right. Don't change a thing."
Your nurse's cap never leaves you as you walk the path of life. You just use it differently along the way.
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