By the time I left India, I had just started feeling better after being sick for twelve days. Those twelve days left me with way too much time to think, and way too little to do.
I was frustrated with doctors who didn’t seem to understand me, anxious about why I wasn’t getting better, and restless from lack of activity. I was done. I had reached a point where going home began to cross my mind.
As much as I would have loved it, it would have meant giving up lots of money for airfare, and my fellowship. Going home is not allowed unless you’re very seriously ill or injured, and at that point you need a closer hospital anyway.
Instead of giving up, I decided to challenge myself physically in order to distract myself from my emotions. I embarked on a nine day Himalayan trek to Poon Hill and Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal.
Climbing up and down stairs, in and out of villages left little time for me to think about anything except which rock to place my foot on next. Some days my legs ached so bad I didn’t know if I could keep going without falling, but I did.
Living in Washington state I have climbed many mountains before, but never for more than one day. Each day by itself was not so difficult, but nine in a row started to take its toll on me.
As hard as it felt at times, I found myself thinking that being a nurse is harder. We sometimes work many hours and days in a row with little rest. I can remember feeling just as exhausted at the end of a work week as I did at the end of the trek.
Yet nursing is not only physically challenging, but mentally, and emotionally challenging as well. While trekking, I only have to worry about keeping myself safe. When I’m working as a nurse, I am balancing my own needs with the complex needs of multiple patients all at once.
When I tell people I want to be a hospice nurse, I often get the response “that’s a really hard job”. They’re right, it is a really hard job, but that’s part of why I love it. If I wanted an easy job, I certainly would not have chosen this profession.
I miss caring for others. I miss the feeling of being challenged every day, but going home knowing I made a difference for someone else. I miss being a nurse way more than I thought I would.
Sense of achievement and having a purpose greater than oneself are fundamental pieces of what it means to be human. Some of us are fortunate enough to be able to choose the challenges we want, and some are not. Some of us start our lives halfway up the mountain, and some must walk a long way, carrying a load twice as heavy just to get to the start.
All of us go through different types of struggle to varying degrees, but without it we may never appreciate the beauty in our lives. I’ve seen some of the most disadvantaged people exude some of the greatest amounts of joy.
We may not enjoy every moment, but when we rise to the challenge we allow ourselves to become better, brighter, and stronger. Life is not always easy, but it is so worth it.