Confessions of a CNO

Confessions of a CNO

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

Confessions of a CNO

Remember this—that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

As I connect with all of the wonderful nurses that I have had the privilege to work with over thirty-five years in administration, and ask them why they became nurses, the answers are inevitably similar. “I want to help people,” “I wanted to be a nurse like my mom,” “I want to feel valuable to the greater good or the community.” My journey to nursing was not so altruistic. I must confess, I wanted to be a dancer, not a nurse. My goal was to live and dance professionally in New York City. A friend who was studying nursing convinced me that if I took a couple of years off from dancing to obtain my nursing degree, I could have a good job between shows and I wouldn’t have to wait tables like other striving actresses and dancers. I thought her suggestion was a great idea, even though I felt that my place in life was to make people happy by entertaining them. But when I began working in the hospital as a nurse, my life was transformed.

I realized that as a performer I made people happy for a few minutes but I did not have a meaningful impact on their lives. Nurses cared about people, whereby most performers cared about themselves and their next job. It began to frustrate me to observe the value that society continually placed on performers as evidenced by the money and fame that they received. It undervalued the “true heroes”—the nurses.

I knew that I would never leave nursing to dance again when I began working in critical care as a new nurse. I received the call from the emergency department that we were getting a level-one trauma patient. A student nurse on her way home from a study group totaled her car close to our hospital. In those days, very long ago, seat belts were not promoted as they are today, and she was ejected out the front window, under the car, which then exploded. Surprisingly, she did not suffer severe burns, but her skull was crushed. Soon after surgery, brain activity ceased. Her mom, tormented by the turn of events, truly believed that her daughter was going to recover. Staff members did not share the same level of optimism but supported the family in their decision to maintain life support until they were ready to make that difficult decision. Determined that she would recover, her mom refused the option for organ donation. She did agree, however, that if her daughter arrested we would not “code” her or perform unnecessary heroics.

I had a special connection to this patient since she was only two years younger than I and shared the same interest in nursing.

About two weeks into the ordeal, she began to flutter her eyelashes and make what appeared to be purposeful movements. We were amazed and cautiously hopeful that perhaps her mom was right. I left for the day and began my hour-long drive home. Halfway home I realized that there was still a “do not resuscitate” order on the chart. I immediately turned around and drove back to the hospital to remove the DNR order. When I returned the next morning, in report I learned that she had arrested during the night and was successfully resuscitated. The gratitude in the eyes of her mom when I came in to begin my daily care was enough satisfaction to last a lifetime and validate that I was where I needed to be in my life.

I also began to believe in miracles, because after a rather long period in rehab, my patient went back to nursing school and finished her studies.

I have since moved on in my career, through various leadership positions, to become the vice president/chief nursing officer of one of the largest hospitals in the country. I have made it my goal in life to make sure that all nurses realize how valuable they are to the lives of others, and that they will experience their own stories that sustain them and make them feel that they, too, are where they need to be in life.

There are a privileged few who can say, “I am a nurse.”

It’s the greatest performance of my life.

Val Gokenbach

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