Sunday, May 4, 2014


National nurses week is coming up and I got an email at work saying "we'd love to hear from you  about why you became a nurse, or what you love about being a nurse".  I was close to hitting the delete button, but gave it a little extra thought and since I am in the "twilight" of my nursing career, I decided to accept the "challenge".  In my 40+ years of nursing, I have seen the highs and lows, the ends and outs of nursing.  I've been the patient, Ive been the nurse. . . I seen life from both sides now.

So let me begin with why I became a nurse.

When I was 6 years old, my favorite uncle-- Marvin, was in medical school at Loma Linda. He was good looking, funny and witty and I adored him. (Later when the Ben Casey tv show came out, I was sure Marvin could have been his double) I think that was when I thought, if I could be a nurse, than I could work with him in his office when he became a doctor. Together, we would save the world!!??

That Christmas, my aunt Marilyn made me a authentic nursing uniform, pinafore, hat and all. I also got a medical kit complete with a real stethoscope, bp cuff, bandages, etc. I was thrilled, and in business!

Over the years, after spending some of my teen years working in a sanitarium and nursing home, the glam of nursing was obviously a little "tarnished" to put it mildy and I briefly wavered in my decision to be a nurse. It was the 60's and I considered being a social worker to solve all the social inequalities of the times.  However, when I got to college, nursing seemed like a more direct path to becoming independent and self sufficient. So I jumped into the nursing que. Little did I know that when I graduated, I'd have no benefits for many years and would get barely $5/hour.

But,I must say my life has not been boring. 

Once I took my state boards, I joined my family in New Guinea where I was drafted since it seemed I was the only medical person in the vicinity, to give lectures to the locals, who had never even heard of a germs. I had some sophisticated public health lectures probably conceived by a Harvard grad with some slides that I realized were almost useless in this situation.  But I managed to keep the people entertained with a few of the slides and making up simple lectures. 

After a stint in Singapore, we moved on to Borneo, where among one of my dad's duties was a bush pilot. I gave him a crash course in triage, suturing, medi-vac, etc. Once he got a flat tire on the cessna, landing on a marginal runway. (We had radioed him to follow the cow path and watch out for the long house built at the end of the runway.)  As we sat around wondering how to fix the tire, I suggested we patch it with some rubber from the local rubber trees and patch from a bicycle. After checking for any escaping air with a stethoscope, he had a successful take off. Whew!!  That was a close one.

Sarawak, Malasian Borneo, was a beautiful island at this time, untouched by the deforestation that came all too soon, moving the simple inland hunter-gather tribes from thatched long houses to urban housing. While doing research on goiters with a medical student and some other friends and family, we stayed with the Iban tribe in their long-house. I remember getting little sleep, cause if you were anybody, you would have a prized rooster tied to your front door.  The cocks were out-crowing each other most of the night.   
Almost everyone living inland had a goitor. Due to the research,though,the government began to give the people iodine supplements and sell iodized salt in the shops. My uncle Marvin and his family came out for a vacation and he helped with some clinics. That's about the closest I ever got to working with him as his nurse!?!

This quote sums up what has kept me in nursing for over 40 years:

When I think about all the patients and their loved ones
 that I have worked with over the years, 
I know most of them don’t remember me nor I them.
 But I do know that I gave a little piece of myself to each of them 
and they to me and those threads make up the beautiful tapestry in my mind
 that is my career in nursing. – D.Cardillo-