It feels like the skies have cleared and the hazing has finally stopped. Finally a senior, I am no longer a pledge in the Decker sorority. We are wiser, smarter and less afraid when an assignment is placed in our overly washed and dry — I mean confident and clean — hands.
But don’t think this hazing can be absolved by pointing fingers. No, neither faculty nor peers are responsible for the rigors experienced, but rather the not-so-mythical land of “the real world.”
As nursing students we are thrown into this foreign place with little more than the universal language of a smile and the ability to count respirations. You learn the “whys” in the book, but you cannot learn the “hows” of nursing until you are on the job.
And because nursing by nature is not something that can be learned in the confines of a classroom, you must travel to the confines of a hospital or a nursing home instead. You are safeguarded freshman and sophomore year, but junior year is when it all begins.
This is where you come face-to-face with what you’ve only read about in books: people. They are just so life-like it takes a while to get accustomed to them. You have been told that they like friendly faces so you try to transform all of your anxieties into a simple, albeit hesitant, smile.
The first semester of junior year you luck out. You get to work with a partner in clinical so you can tag team it, but come spring semester you are on your own. I remember my first clinical day of spring semester like it was yesterday, and not just because I’ve replayed it with horror in my head since.
It all began when 5 a.m. rolled around and my alarm went off. I had to be at my clinical site by 6 a.m. Awake and not-so-sprightly, I forced myself to get out of bed and shove food into my face. And then it was time for the worst part of the morning — deciding what to wear. After a few hours of deliberation, I decided on a pair of the mandatory green and white scrubs. Dressed to kill, I left the house, hoping to do just the opposite.
Once I got to the clinical site, we discussed our plans for the day and our professor sent us on our way. We were told that we had to wake up our patients and get them ready for the day. In nursing school, this is usually code for ‘give them a bed-bath.’ My only previous experience with bed-baths was in our lab class when we all had to wear bathing suits and wash each other one day.
I had a strong feeling — call it my nursing intuition — that my elderly patient was not wearing a bathing suit underneath his clothes. Pushing this all out of my mind, I walked into his dark room and loudly remarked about what a great morning it was. Nothing.
I quickly realized that, apart from a few isolated yeses and nos, my patient was non-verbal. I tried to get him washed up efficiently, but had trouble because he suffered from a chronic illness that made him very rigid. I was terrified. Because he could not talk, I wanted to be positive he was not in pain and continually asked him if he was ‘doing okay,’ but what I really wanted to hear was that I was doing okay.
Eventually I was running so far behind that a fellow nursing student was sent in to help me. With a lot of teamwork we managed to get him washed up and dressed despite his lack of mobility.
By the time we got him to the dining room I started feeling good again. This wasn’t so bad; I could handle it. I looked up to see an approaching nurse’s aide, who snidely shouted in my face that “he could eat a lot better if he had his dentures in.”
The color fell from my face as I turned towards my patient with an awkward smile — only to face a toothless one.