This I Believe

Emily Smith - Tucson, Arizona
Entered on January 17, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe we find our power in unexpected places. If you had asked me ten years ago what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you, “I want to be an environmental scientist. I want to learn fascinating things and work to protect our environment.” In my vision, such work would allow me to help my community on a global scale.

These days, when I am at work, I don’t have that grand scale impact I hoped for as a kid. Instead, I climb deeply into the experience of just a few other humans. At age 26, I am a registered nurse in a medical intensive care unit.

When I leave work after a 12 hour shift, I know that I have accomplished things. Important things, like intervening minute-to-minute to help someone who is not ready to die weather a massive physiological insult. Or finding a way to provide adequate pain relief so that someone can rest and begin to heal, or die comfortably and with dignity. Sometimes, I catch a medication error just in time. I protect my patients from infection and the hazards of immobility, and keep them from falling out of bed. I am at the bedside within seconds when a terrified person who cannot breathe for herself or communicate with others becomes disconnected from her ventilator. I help patients and families stay grounded in reality, even as the very notion of what it means to be alive becomes very, very blurry amidst all the technology. I support them as they explore what living means to them individually and then try to follow their own internal guidance about what to do. I am present with them constantly and unconditionally, so they don’t have to journey alone.

There are so many jobs like this. Sometimes, when the housekeeper talks with family members while she cleans the room, I can see them relax for the first time in hours, or maybe days. Collectively, these small things really add up.

My work is satisfying and engaging. Working closely with others, I can see and feel tangible accomplishments on a daily basis. This I believe: that through nursing I have power– the power to effect positive change regularly and measurably, even if those changes are relatively small. To me, that is priceless.