Hope, healing and loss: Through it all, Rochester nurses remain resilient
Nurses experience life at an accelerated pace in the halls of a hospital. They witness and support patients’ successes, but have the pain of facing death and loss. This lifestyle is the reality for the more than 8,000 nursing professionals who work here in Rochester. Yet, all of it is worthwhile when, as nurse Nathan Borchardt describes, “we’ll get [patients] through the surgical procedure, get them on the floor, do everything right, and they’ll walk out the door five or six days later and get to start a new life.”
With stakes as high as these, it is understandably difficult to disengage after the work day is done. I sat down with three young Mayo Clinic nurses — all in their 20s — who explained how they attempt to recover mentally and physically when they’re off the clock. These practices keep them from mentally walking the floors of their unit or agonizing over the ways in which they could have helped more patients and instead recuperate so they can provide patients with care for the next shift.
Works: Organ transplant at Rochester Methodist Hospital
Education: B.S.N. from University of Wisconsin, 2017
As their job demands them to consistently provide quality care for people in some of the most vulnerable periods of their lives, nurses can sometimes have difficulty keeping their own mental and physical health a priority. This balance can be especially challenging for young nurses as they face traumatic experiences for the first time.
“In the pediatric intensive care unit, I see the sickest of the sick kids," explains Joshua Vu, who is seven years into his nursing career. "That is the hardest part of my job is to deal with the loss of such a young life."
Nate recounts a particular patient death that caused him to think and rethink how he could have improved as a nurse. “I always thought of all the stuff I could have done, not necessarily medically, but I remember I could have talked with this person on a more deep and emotional level than just ‘are you having pain?’ or I could have gotten him more warm blankets ... or spent more time just being there as a person as opposed to being a medical provider. That bugs me more than thinking I got him his pills on time.”
Experiencing death at such a profound level is something that is difficult and perhaps impossible to adjust to for these young professionals. Understandably, such emotional experiences deeply change an individual. Joshua comments on how initially his strong faith in God was shaken from seeing so many children suffering. Nate remarks how he has become less empathetic to those who complain or are concerned with trivial things, because he sees how much suffering his patients endure.
Works: Neurosurgical unit at St. Marys Hospital
Education: B.S.N. from Winona State University, 2017
Nicole Zimmerman, a nurse at St. Marys, remembers how working as a CNA in a nursing home early in her career, it was very difficult to recover from resident deaths. Yet, she quickly learned the necessity of developing healthy outlets outside of work to keep these weighty thoughts from her mind when her shift is done. "There are some days at work that are stressful," Nicole explains. "But now, I’m generally pretty well accustomed, and I can leave stressful days at work, which is better.”
Nate eases his stress by exercising, reading, writing and confiding in his family and friends. This catharsis enabled him to get over some very difficult losses in his unit and continue to provide top quality care to his patients.
Joshua is learning to cut hair with the hope of transferring this hobby to the hospital as a service for patients. He enjoys the rituals he has with his coworkers, such as getting breakfast burritos after a night shift. Their support enables him to continue on with energy and passion.
Even with the difficult aspects of the job, these three nurses express the many joyful parts of helping people heal and improve in some of their most vulnerable times. Joshua lights up while talking about how his patients’ smiles bring him so much happiness, “whether that is a newborn giggling and laughing, or a toddler finally getting to sing and dance, or a teenager smirking at us … deep down I know they’re finding joy and hope."
Works: Pediatric intensive care unit at St. Marys Hospital
Education: B.S.N. from South Dakota State University, 2010
As nurses, each understands the importance of the seemingly small actions that can change a patient's day. As Nicole explains, "a back rub can mean the world to a person. Changing them into better clothes or their own pajamas makes them feel more like a human. Or offering to brush their teeth … sometimes people overlook that.”
The ultimate goal for these individuals is seeing their patients improve to the point where they can leave the hospital and return to their lives. Yet, even when this goal is achieved, it can be difficult to say goodbye.
"You definitely grow a relationship with them and their family," says Nicole. "That’s harder because you never know what happens after they leave. You know you did your job ... and just hope for the best.”
And when patients are able to return and thank them for their care ... "It's really rewarding," says Nate, "to see people come back and stop by on the floor, they’re not jaundice anymore, they’re not on dialysis anymore ... We’ve had people drop off cards and outline their kid’s weddings they wouldn’t have made it to."
Nora Eckert is a conversation enthusiast who loves storytelling, whether it is a feature for her website, The Conversationalist, or within her capacity as a marketing and communications specialist at a local biotech company. She is looking forward to building upon her undergraduate degree in English and business with a masters in journalism.