Who Knew I Would Be a Science Buff?
"He has something stuck inside him," the triage nurse said to me as she wheeled my first patient back to a room in the Emergency Room. It was my first day post orientation in a level-one trauma center, and her smirk as she left the room should have tipped me off that this was going to be ... special.
The patient looked embarrassed, and as I helped guide him into a gown and the bed, I noticed a faint humming sound in the room. As I started my assessment, the patient refused to tell me what was stuck inside him or how it got there. When the resident came to get me to review the patient's X-ray with him, that was the moment I realized ER nursing was going to be a wild ride. It turned out that the patient had a vibrator with more spikes and attachments than seemed possible stuck so far up his rectum that surgery was the only way to remove it. Luckily, the batteries died shortly thereafter so that insane vibrating noise finally shut off.
This was the beginning of a career path that, at times, I have wondered if it was the right one for me. I have been screamed at, belittled, and had things thrown at me. I have had a front-row seat to horrific accidents, trauma, and death. Conversely, I have seen medicine and people save lives. This is what I hold on to when I truly don’t think I can endure one more terrible tragedy. These same life-saving people that you work with on a daily basis are the ones that get you through. This tribe of sarcastic, wildly hilarious, and incredibly smart social workers, doctors, case managers, and techs make up the village that is the Emergency Room. Outside of the ER, the support and faith of my family also has kept me going.
Nursing wasn't a calling for me, and it wasn't an obvious career choice for me either. I graduated with a degree in Fine Arts and spent my early days employed as a photojournalist. I had dreams of being a traveling gypsy photographer who never settled down. My passion was capturing the forgotten, the derelicts, the homeless — the darker side of humanity. Photography allowed to me show a side of people that maybe to others, might not have been noticed; it taught me that everyone has a story and most everyone deserves to share it. After losing my job at a local newspaper due to Art Department cuts (or as I like to refer to it, the birth of the iPhone), I knew I needed to reinvent myself. I was a single mom and fresh out of an abusive relationship. All I knew was that I wanted more for myself and my young daughter. I wanted and needed her to see me as an example: someone who could study, apply myself, and flourish. To this day, one of my lifetime crowning achievements is listening to my daughter talk about me as a nurse. She is so proud.
My sister is the one responsible for me even thinking about nursing as a career. After I'd spent a year bartending and waiting tables, she said to me in an off-the-cuff phone conversation that she thought I would make a great nurse. I laughed it off and replied with, “Thanks, but no thanks. You're the smart one in our family (as an Anesthesiologist)." She persisted though and said that she worked with some awesome nurses, among whom I would fit right in. After a few months of career soul-searching, I looked up nurses' salaries on a lark. I'm not going to lie, the money was enticing. Even more enticing for me was the flexibility: I could continue to live my free-as-a-bird lifestyle and still have a job wherever I chose to roam. I enrolled that Friday in my first class at our local community college and surprised myself and my family as I immediately embraced subjects like Anatomy, Physiology, and Microbiology. Who knew I would be a science buff? Clearly my sister, the smart one, knew I would.
For me this is my success story, but it didn't come without pitfalls and major growth along the way. My new husband, whom I married in my first year of nursing school, was a constant support and my biggest cheerleader next to my mom and daughter. He acted as my brain outside of my body when I just couldn't retain one more piece of information inside my own brain.
For any new nurse or for anyone considering nursing as a career, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to identify your village and surround yourself with them. Ask for a strong preceptor who encourages questions, rather than judges you for asking them. Nurses need a lot of guidance out there on the floor. The frightening truth is there is too much to know and so much of what you learn is on-the-job training.
I have succeeded. I have changed my life, and I have found a career that is fulfilling. I find myself on a path that I would not have considered while in my twenties. But, today, it fits my lifestyle and fulfills my desire to make a difference.
I have held patients' hands while they are dying. I have seen last breaths taken. I have witnessed patients who I thought had no hope for recovery open their eyes. I have hugged families both in grief and in joy. Nursing is a humbling career, and one in which I am so proud to play a part.
Jamie Sampere grew up in a Topeka, Kansas, and left shortly after graduating high school to Chicago, Illinois. She obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in Photojournalism, which was a career choice that landed her in the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico’s land and people soon stole her heart. After a few years and a few other destinations, she completed her nursing degree at Santa Fe Community College and has been an ER nurse ever since. Currently, Jamie is continuing her education and finishing her Master's in Family Nurse Practitioner and eagerly awaits being done with school. Jamie resides in Taos, New Mexico, with her husband and two kids.
Words: Jamie Sampere