The Lonely Burden Of Being A Nurse

I don’t talk much about my job. Beyond acknowledging that I’m a nurse and the specialty I work in, I keep everything about my job to myself. At most, I’ll talk shop with other healthcare workers, but even then, we all play the same game, revealing just enough to commiserate without getting in potential trouble. Because therein lies the rub: anything we say can be used against us. We go through so much at work, are exposed to illnesses galore (pandemic aside), deal with difficult patients that make us question why we became nurses in the first place (both confused and perfectly oriented), play counselor to families with dynamics that would put anything you’ve seen in movies to shame, navigate a healthcare system that changes every day (and not always necessarily for the better), and let’s not forget the days in which we’re berated, assaulted, and sometimes killed. But we can’t talk about that.

While we have to worry about HIPAA, the Federal law that ensures patient healthcare info privacy, our biggest worry is usually our own place of employment. Understandably, they want to protect their image in the community, so increasingly social media departments double up as social monitoring bureaus where the slightest slip, intentional or not, gets reported, logged, notified, and disciplined. Too many healthcare workers have lost their jobs for things they posted online, sometimes with the best of intentions, and I don’t particularly want to be one of them. So we keep silent. Some of us have the fortune of being in relationships with other healthcare workers, so we can vent in the privacy of our home, but many don’t.

So we keep silent. And we swallow up all that stress like world-class champs, because we gotta go in the next day/night and do it all over again. Because we have a passion for helping people, but we also have a passion for paying our bills. So we keep silent. The COVID-19 pandemic is no different, although the stress we’re bottling up is multiplied a thousandfold. That things change literally every day doesn’t make it easier. That we see colleagues getting exposed, infected, intubated doesn’t make it any easier. That we know we could be next doesn’t make it any easier. So we keep silent.

And we show up for our next shift.

Originally published in Rhymes With Seen – Quaranzine/Apr 2020, available in print and PDF.

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