Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Rollercoaster of Emotions that was my First Clinicals

So, I  know I said I would let you know first thing Monday about my first two clinicals, but honestly, I was putting it off.

But I have to write it out and get it out.

I decided Friday night that I would hope for the best and expect the worst (and I'm sure you can guess what the worst thing would be as far as walking in to a nursing home as a nursing student for the first time).

I woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday morning ready to go; had my coffee, did a little reading up on assessing patients etc., and had my "let's do this!" music all set up for the short drive to the facility. I was excited I was working with the person I wanted to work with, and I kept mentally pumping myself up.

The first thing we did was look at a chart the size of a phonebook, and I could only make guesses as to what I was looking at. My partner happened to be a CNA years ago, and she still works in an LTC (long-term care) facility, so she's looking and flipping, looking and flipping, and I did my best to keep up. (I did gently tell her the second day to please slow down and tell me what it was I was looking at, and she did it without question. She's a great partner.)

Then, the 30 minutes of looking over our patient's chart was over, and it was time to go meet and greet her. And what I had expected to happen, happened. I walked into a smell I will never forget. The heat from the room's personal heater mixed with it and just blasted me in the face as soon as I opened the door.

 But I took it like a champ. I made a decision right then that I would not gag, throw up, run away, or faint. I called on my powers of wifedom and motherhood (the things that have been most challenging in my life) to help give me strength. And it worked.

The whole day was overwhelming, and right away I caught the sights, sounds, and smells that I knew I would have to quickly get over. And our patient had everything: Alzheimers, COPD, psoriasis, hypertension, edema, obesity, diabetes, the list of what was wrong and all the meds to try and make it right went on.

I thought I did ok dealing with the emotions that took me that first day. But nothing could have prepared me for the second day.

Our patient had had enough of us (and everyone else for that matter - and why they gave us a patient who is well known for consistently refusing care is beyond me) so we were assigned a new patient. All we had time to do by then was roll her down to the dining area (which is smaller than my livingroom) for lunch, then bring her back to her room for rest.

As we sat there waiting for the lunch cart, I was looking at these ten patients in their wheelchairs, bibs around their neck, some falling asleep and some staring off at nothing or talking to no one...and I lost it.

I didn't make a scene! It was more an emotional "losing it". I smiled at my partner and said, "excuse me a moment. I just need to use the bathroom." And I quietly slipped out to an unbusy hallway.

My eyes were burning fiercely, and my chin was doing that whole "I'm not gonna cry, I'm not gonna cry, pull yourself together" thing. I don't know what happened. Cleaning poo? Fine. Seeing things on a naked body I didn't even know were possible? No problem. Watching what a full life lived ends up as - in a wheelchair with a bib on while someone more than half your age wipes pureed turkey off your face? Not so much.

But I had to be stronger than that, at least for the moment. I dabbed my eyes, took some deep breaths, put a smile on my face, and went to help feed a patient.

I cried the whole way home. I cried while my poor husband consoled me. And I talked to my partner on the phone later that day. I was so happy to know she understands exactly what I'm going through, and she thinks I will be a great nurse. "Don't give up!" And knowing we both want to work in Peds (with babies) or in L&D (labor and delivery) and that geriatrics just isn't for us makes me feel a little more confident. This won't be forever, and from what everyone says, I will get used to it anyway.

Was the first weekend of clinicals what I expected? No way.

Should I give up now and save myself the trouble?

No way.


  1. What an awesome descrition of your first experience with clinicals. Continue on and you will, I am sure, have more exciting, disapointing, humorous, and most of all, rewarding experiences to share; and yes Jessica, I do believe with all my heart, that you will be an awesome nurse one day soon!

  2. please forgive my several typing errors in previous comment. Cohleen

  3. Wow, 'Tober! That was a wonderful post! I've heard about Clinicals, but I've never gotten a first-hand view of them. Thanks so much for this post, and your feelings on the matter. I agree with your partner. You will make a fanTAStic nurse.

  4. Cohleen and Cat, thank you both so so much! It felt really good to read both of your comments, and that you both think I will be a good nurse!

  5. Maybe they begin that way on purpose, with the new students, to weed out the ones who don't have what it takes. You showed them! Nobody's weeding out our Jess.

    Now that you know what to expect, it'll get better. I know it. And at least your underwear didn't show through. ;-D

  6. OMG Kate I totally remembered not to wear the blue panties! LOL You know I think you're on to something there, because I heard similar stories about "weeding out".

    Apparently, one girl ran out of the hospital after her patient died ON HER WATCH. It wasn't her fault AT ALL, but seeing that must've just been traumatic, as I guess it is the first time for all new nurses. They got her back upstairs "almost kicking and screaming" our instructor said, and now she's actually a working LPN.

    So, ya never know, right!

  7. Hi Jess,
    I was reccommended your blog by Cat, just so you know I am not coming out of nowhere! Hahah. I am a nursing student as well (I graduate in November) but let me just say that your blog is wonderful! Trust me, you are perfectly normal, and you feel what I think everyone feels when they work in the LTC. Luckily, it is just one rotation (well, we had to do two in the BSN program). I liked it (after I got over the initial shock) because alot of the people in the LTC are just so sweet, and once you learn how to talk to them and listen to them, they are so greatful. Yes, even the ones talking to air and the ones half asleep. They LOVE it when they sense that you care, even if they can't hear you or see you. No, you never get used to it (I don't think) but you learn to work inspite of the smells, feelings, and growths. You sound like a champ; I know you will do just awesomly! hahah. Oh, and just one more thing. Your idea of being a pediatric nurse is the BEST thing ever! I am in pediatrics right now and its the most fun I have ever had (well, most of the time. You can expect to cry at least twice every quarter- lets just say that some people should NOT be parents!) and I am actually considering it now. I want to be an ER nurse, but working Pediatrics, I am torn. It is tough; have fun and hang in there. It doesn't last forever, as you said! And it sounds like you have a great partner, which is important. Anyway, thanks for sharing!
    EM SN

  8. Hey "EM"!! I'm so glad Cat told you about my blog, and thanks for checking it out.
    You definitely gave me some good advice, and I know eventually, like all nurses, I will get over the initial shock. You know, you could always be an ER nurse AND a peds nurse - which is the beauty of the nursing field; SO MANY OPTIONS! And you never have to stay in one place.
    Well, again, thank you for checking out my blog, and good luck in your schooling as well!