From the day I started working in healthcare, I felt a sense of belonging and acceptance I had never experienced. I never really analyzed these feelings, but I knew nursing was my passion and I would work to serve others, in one way or another, for the extent of my career and thereafter. Current events have challenged me to consider every aspect of my life – my job, school, relationships etc. Thus, I have come to recognize how safe I feel in the hospital for various reasons. I am not ignorant to the formalities that need to change in healthcare. However, there is something so epically beautiful about being employed in a university hospital intensive care unit and witnessing the raw, core of humanity. Sometimes this core is hateful, scared, damaged, or even criminal, but in a hospital, everyone is welcome.
Writing this post has helped me remember the types of people for whom I’ve provided care. My patients have included Middle Americans, East coasters, West coasters, white-collar workers, blue-collar workers, females, males, LGBTQ individuals, and innumerable races. I have cared for a woman, post-abortion and a woman post c-section, both critically ill. I have cared for countless immigrants, some legal and some illegal, who chose to risk their lives because nothing could be worse than the place they called home.
This brings me to people without homes. Several of my patients haven’t even had names or families, let alone homes, but they were treated as if they did – because we all knew at one point in time, they were given a name. To add to the list are countless people who were born into mental illness and addiction problems, or at one point, even had it all and lost it. This reminds me how close each and every one of us could be to losing our current health and wealth. I have cared for people with swastika tattoos, child molesters, and prisoners. I once held the hand of a man dying of AIDS, acquired from needle use due to his heroine addiction. He had no one because his family detached, when he could not conquer his own demons.
I grew close to a VIP client with cancer who died two grueling months after admission. I have cared for children, adults, the elderly, and persons with intellectual disabilities. I have become blind to race, religion, and social status, because what I see are people who are the same. Illness and death does not discriminate. I see people who are scared they are going to die, angry they are sick, remorseful for mistakes they have made, and lonely because they have no one. Some people are happy they had a good day, hour, or minute and even if they don’t speak, I can tell because smiles are universal. Nonetheless, this is only my experience; imagine all of the other healthcare workers.
So what does this say about my acquired sense of belonging? I belong, because everyone belongs, and I can’t think of anywhere else this is possible. I look around at my co-workers including other nurses, doctors, environmental staff, respiratory therapists, food service – everyone. We come from different walks of life, we have different political and religious beliefs, and our own agendas, but somehow we manage to work together for the sake of the patient. Our team is frequently perceived as organized chaos. The people with extraordinarily high IQ’s (intelligence quotient) are balanced by the people with extraordinarily high EQ’s (emotional quotient). The neurotic types are evened out by the more relaxed ones and the big picture types are complimented by those with a high attention to detail. One is not better than the other, for we are all better together.
A Muslim doctor will care for a white supremacist, a pro-life nurse will care for a pro-choice woman, a provider against the Affordable Care Act will save the uninsured. Why? Because when people are sick and need help, we simply help them. We do not judge them for their stories, because one does not trump another. And deep down we realize in trying to help those different from ourselves, they are in turn, helping us.
This is not an easy job and our efforts are certainly far from perfect, but we try. Some days I want to quit. We are overworked and the toll on our minds and bodies are only empathized by each other, which can be isolating. Other days, my coworkers drive me crazy and my patients are not far behind. But, here we are, a bunch of people who may or may not have belonged outside of this place, together, working toward one goal, to help another. And I am so thankful this is my life and these are my people.