A Year of "Firsts" That Bettered Me and My Practice

It was my third shift working with my preceptor. A patient needed a second PIV placed, and a coworker who was swamped, asked me to help. I jumped at the opportunity… tripped over the patient's IV tubing, dislodging it entirely. I could feel my cheeks flush and tears coming. My preceptor laughed.


Later, she sat me down and told me I'd have a lot of firsts in my career. "This," she explained, "was your first mortifying moment. There will be more."


She encouraged me to write down my "firsts"— challenges and proud moments— the things that would change me. She said the record would be valuable and that someday I'd look back and see how far I'd come, and remember the milestones.


Feeling anxious and overwhelmed, I decided to follow her advice and start tracking my firsts. My first rapid response. The first time I made a grumpy patient smile. And then, the first time I watched someone die.


A UW Health nurse reflects upon the learning experience that is her career.The patient, who I'll call "Kim," had survived many complications, but was depressed and anxious. She'd given up her will to live. I worked extensively with Kim— holding her hand through anxiety attacks—and learning about her life experiences. Together, we developed goals she could work toward.


Then, one day, a PT scheduled to work with Kim ran out of the room calling for help. Kim wouldn't wake up. I sprinted in and noticed her blue fingertips and pale body. No one could find a pulse. My colleague called a code. My first.


The room filled with people. I had taken CPR training, but doing it on an actual body was very different. I had no idea what a lifeless body would feel like beneath my hands. My arms grew tired. My colleagues and I rotated every two minutes to keep compressions strong. When it was my turn, they encouraged me, letting me know I was doing everything right.


After 20 minutes, the physician called it. Kim was pronounced dead.


The intensity gave way. The room's atmosphere shifted. Doctors and nurses tossed isolation gowns aside and wheeled equipment out. I lingered. A coworker joined me, and we began the work that begins with death. In silence, I began to process a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions: recognition of a life come and gone; respect for Kim and the life she lived, her soul now free.


I felt relief for the woman who struggled through pain and anxiety, and I felt gratitude she was finally at peace. I also felt loss. Our paths crossed only briefly, but I experienced a profound emptiness.


When we finished, we bowed our heads in a moment of silence. Then, I did something I hadn't done in a long time. I offered a simple prayer and a blessing to the universe for her. And I cried. I carried those feelings throughout my shift. My coworkers offered encouragement, hugs and words of comfort.


In the months after Kim passed and since graduating from my nurse residency, I find myself reflecting on my experiences, just as my preceptor said I would. I notice my memories and feelings aren't technical skills or situations, but rather the people who were by my side.


I depend on this network of people who are more like family and helped me become a better person and nurse. We share stresses and triumphs. We comfort each other without words. I am part of a unique community of beautiful people called nurses, who make it all worthwhile.