Today was the best day of my life.
None of my wedding days (there have been five), my 10th sobriety birthday (a very big deal), the day I realized that I had truly been a good daughter to my dying mother, the day I left California after 35 years of wanting to leave California, the day (night) I first saw the aurora borealis, the day I saw Michelangelo's David at the Accademia Galleria in Florence or the day I heard that I had been admitted to the nursing program are any longer in the running for the best day of my life, because it was today.
I spent six hours with my patient today. In those six hours I used skills I've learned during my first semester to listen to his heart and lungs, assess his neurological status, and take his vital signs. These are important skills to be sure, but they were only a portion of what I used today to help my patient. I drew on 17 years of sobriety to understand, accept and support his concerns regarding how alcohol use contributed to the terrible burns he suffered, nearly ended his life, and landed him in the hospital. I used the strength I've found by changing careers in my mid fifties to reassure him that he too can find a new professional path now that his extensive injuries dictate that he no longer earn his living by manual labor. I used my laptop to show him that he really can use a computer - he had confided that he was worried about finding an office job because he has always been afraid of computers (we spent an hour on the basics in his hospital room).
I helped him, but he helped me more. Although I have always wanted to be a nurse, a small part of me was very very worried that I would recoil at the sight of human mutilation. That "blood and guts" might make me dizzy and weak and nauseated. That when push came to shove I would run away. That didn't happen. Instead I examined with fascination third degree burns. I saw deep tissue damage. And because the gods were smiling upon me, I got to see a three day old skin graft. It was a miraculous thing, the way that skin harvested from one part of his body was growing on another, and I told his surgeon that it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen (that really made the surgeon smile).
When I left the hospital today to drive home I wept a bit. I wept for my good fortune - in having the opportunity to live my lifelong dream of becoming a nurse (thank you Mom), for my patient who has taking a long hard look at his life and is choosing change and personal growth instead of despair, for the surgeon who is a skilled artist and can move living skin from one place to another, for my sister who talks me down from the ledge, my husband who works to support us while I am in school, for my sponsor who has stuck with me through thick and thin, for my cousin who has become such a wonderful blessing in my life, for the college friends and educators who have encouraged me to continue when I have struggled.
I was born to do this, and today was the best day of my life. So far, anyway. I know there will be more. And that is the greatest gift of all.