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No. It’s not my age, shoe size, nor my IQ.

Sometimes I have to repeat it: thirty-seven years as a nurse. Holy cow.

Yep, that’s me. Once the rookie nurse who hauled my Luckman and Sorensen nursing bible to my first job, now a seasoned one who cherishes the opportunity to work with nurses half my age. It’s still me, holding my nursing memories like a mother not wanting to let go of her children. These many memories, deep within these layered years as a nurse, filter through like moving clouds. Familiar and real, reminders of the decades of a fulfilling profession, one with rewards that fail description.

I’m still the nurse, after 37 years, the one who ponders the idea that some of this 37-year-old stuff might be great to collect in a verbal collage of sorts, at least while I still remember most of it.

Needle sticks, no sleep, court dates, med errors, blizzards, trauma, crisis, flying charts, flying bedpans. Aids, HIV, gloves and no gloves. I’ve lost sleep and I’ve lost patients. I’ve lost coworkers and stood with those hurting. I felt afraid, challenged, happy and sad. I’ve nursed the living, dying, challenging patients, I’ve known the joy of remission and the sorrow of recurrence. I’ve worked with bullies and deadbeats, the eager, earnest and cheerful, joining a smorgasbord of all possible personalities. I’ve cheered those hurting, applauded the positive, ran from the crazies and survived encroaching burnout. I juggled work and family when I didn’t know how I could possibly cover both. I met the challenges of special certifications, state inspections and staying present when I wanted to run. I mustered a brave face when I cried on the inside. I questioned, wondered, doubted and sometimes felt lost. So many experiences within a career, not to mention ALL THE POOP! How could I forget the poop? ALL the poop! From mouth to the bottom, I’ve had my share of poop.

Adapting, adjusting, accommodating–nobody does it quite like a nurse.

Covid 19 arrived during my 36th year as an RN. For help, I needed to return to my professional reset, my internal questions woven within everything I do as a nurse. What is my “why”? Am I still living my “why” as a nurse? Do I allow this “why” to guide me? Have I forgotten my why? If I forget my why, I lose my way, get confused and risk demoralizing complacency.  2020 became a year of more adapting. To masks, quarantines, exposure, and a new breed of fear. While those in healthcare faced challenges somewhat different than the general public, we all shared similar fears. As healthcare providers, however, we needed to be leaders. Frontline warriors. We had to remain. Fight on, stay true to our calling, our people and profession.

When the pandemic hit, we all viewed it differently. Different views, different lenses, different perspectives. While our views differed, collectively, we needed to find a way through.

There were so many questions unanswered. Would we stay safe? Would it pass us by? Would we lose our family members? Was it all just hype? What was the truth?  Who could we trust?

Everyone sees things differently. What seems minor to one person, looks insurmountable to another. The landscape is different for everyone, even looking at the same exact scene. With minimal time to prepare, the nurses in our unit followed a new staffing schedule, allowing a set number of nurses on the unit while the other nurses remained off duty in a type of quarantine. Most urgent treatments were scheduled, non-essential appointments were delayed. Simultaneously, new directives about Covid continually emerged. Adapting while providing excellent patient care remained our mission. We faced these challenges with so many unknown factors, something we as nurses always do well. Again, and again.

I believe there are pillars within our nursing environment. Time tested, strong, and enduring pillars uphold all that we do, as nurses, as people. They uphold us on and off duty, but specific to our conversation, nursing would not survive without them. I’ve listed a few that come to my mind readily. I call them Pillars of Resiliency

Pillar 1: Stamina, Grit and Toughness
This is the embedded ability to stay strong. Again, and again. Deliver no matter what happens. Stamina glues nurses together. The unwavering “yes”, and also the “no”. These ingredients mix well with the softness needed in nursing and produce unmatched strength. Much like water is needed in creating concrete, stamina, grit and toughness are essential components for nurses during chaos. By itself, water doesn’t turn to concrete, but within a combined mixture, it creates something extremely hard. So, it is within our profession. Alone we have our own strength, but as a part of a larger group, our strength becomes mighty.

Pillar 2: Adaptability, Flexibility and Vision
Pillar 2 is another reason nurses can work a grueling, unrelenting 12-hour shift, completing one task after another all day, all night long, nonstop. Bendable, moveable, adjusting. This pillar holds the internal message within a message: this too shall pass. We are both near and far sighted. Sometimes we can’t see what’s right in front of us, sometimes it’s our distant vision that becomes fuzzy. It merely requires a slight shift to get our vision in line, zooming in or out for the best view. Our vision is on auto-adjust continually, adapting.

Pillar 3: Patient-focused Care
This is the driving point in a nurse’s heart, regardless of the monetary flow that runs through everything. Without a purpose caring for people, seeing ourselves as serving in a bigger whole, we lose our way and become disheartened. Without clear lenses, we can fall deeper into the muck of quicksand represented by changes we have no control over. We have to remember our purpose. This pillar fosters courage and a fearless approach.

Pillar 4: Professional Care
As our needs changed in our unit, we were continually learning about Covid, vaccines, and various treatments to treat early Covid. We also had to remain current to changes in our own unit, new therapies we may encounter, new treatments for Covid and otherwise. Nurses are the chameleons in the landscape of gigantic change. Our professional care keeps us fluid in the sea of relentless change.

Pillar 5: Teamwork
Without cohesive teamwork, we simply fall apart. Our teams shine and grow when we acknowledge and appreciate the gifts of each person, each person sharing the load. No one single person can care for everyone, each contributing teammate offers unique gifts, strengths and abilities that make the whole it’s very best.

Pillar 6: Best Personal Care
Whatever it takes, self-care with humor, rest and relief is essential. Honoring and cultivating the best of ourselves personally. The kind of care that nourishes our profession, invites the healing we need after professional trauma. Best self-care renews perspective, softens our hearts and restores compassion for those we serve.

We don’t know what lies ahead, but we can always come back to our pillars. Hit the reset, find our way to our calling, the way to our caring and how we can still make a difference. No matter what we do along the course of our profession, we can always get grounded and connected.

The masters of resiliency, integrity and finding a way.
No one does it better.

By Brenda Hanson, RN, OCN, CRNI