9: Change of Heart

9: Change of Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Change of Heart

Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.

~Eleanor Roosevelt

It broke my heart to leave the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) where I’d been happily employed for fifteen years. The staff was great, all good friends who worked well together. We were a unit of proud critical care nurses with tremendous responsibility. Our green scrubs and the stethoscopes dangling from our necks marked us as “important people.” But then my job, with all its glory and challenges, came to a screeching halt when my husband accepted employment out of state.

Changing jobs is never easy but I felt certain I’d find another PACU that wanted someone with my credentials. Two weeks of job searching and interviewing proved me dead wrong. I found no openings for post-anesthesia care nurses. How could this be? I was devastated.

After one more disappointing rejection the nurse recruiter politely suggested I try the hospital’s CCC unit across the street. I had no idea what CCC stood for until I saw the sign: Continuing Care Center. I stared at the sign and cringed. Obviously CCC was an elaborate name for a nursing home! Working in a nursing home certainly did not fit into my career plans.

My view of nursing homes had been defined by a one-time visit with a youth group as a teenager. I vividly recalled dreary halls, dreadful odors, and unfortunate old people curled in a fetal position waiting for life to end. My mental image of the nursing staff wasn’t much better. I perceived the nurses to be rather dull, not too spiffy or sharp. Not top quality like me.

Since I already had an appointment I followed through and met with the director of nurses at the CCC. She quickly skimmed my references and indicated I might fit into their float pool. How strange. She made it sound like a privilege to work there.

A tour revealed a clean, odor-free building. In fact, the place was brightly decorated and attractive. I took the job, planning to keep an eye on the want ads for something better suited to my skills.

Orientation proved to be another eye opener. The instructor was an ex-Navy nurse who stressed excellence. She had no tolerance for sloppy work or idleness. A six-page test to evaluate my skills not only intimidated me but caused me to wonder if I’d pass. My mental image of a low-caliber staff rapidly changed.

Once on the unit, more evidence blew holes in my preconceived notions. Three staffers had been ICU nurses and two had been PACU nurses. Imagine that! I also learned that several of the RNs were new graduates specializing in geriatrics. The nurses were top-notch all the way. They proved to me that critical care nurses didn’t hold a monopoly on quality care. I secretly hoped I could measure up to their standards.

I swallowed my now battered pride and depended on the nurses to teach me the unit’s routine. My snobby attitude toward nursing home personnel changed. With their friendly manner and efficient skills they helped ease me into the daily assignments.

Another surprise awaited me when I met the residents. Most of the patients in the PACU were groggy from anesthesia so I seldom had verbal interaction. I found the elderly residents in the CCC to be delightful as they shared their life stories and told corny jokes. Most of all I admired their strength and unlimited courage in the face of hardship. Since many of them were admitted for the long haul, I was also able to develop a close relationship with them and their families.

I had worked there only a few weeks when one of my favorite residents needed to be discharged. When her family came to take her home, she pulled me close and said with her Polish accent, “You have been good to me. I will miss you.” I struggled to hold back my tears.

At that moment I knew I was hooked. The residents and staff had become part of me. I no longer checked the want ads in the newspaper for another job because the nursing home, by whatever name, was where I belonged… my career plans fulfilled.

~Barbara Brady

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