Window on the World Column | Best Nurse Ever

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Lucy Jensen

From a very young age, my baby girl had talked about going into nursing. When her auntie suggested that, maybe, vet school might be more up her alley, she responded that she could never work with animals; she loved them too much.

It was shortly after she graduated from high school that she set about becoming a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant). She did her internship and training at Eden Valley Care Center in Soledad and there started her journey into the medical world. She also attained a Medical Assistant qualification and did the coursework for the EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), but she didn’t particularly care for the paperwork side of medical assisting nor the craziness of riding in ambulances for the EMT, or waiting for jobs (she gets very car sick, like her Mum).

No, she wanted to be on the ground, in the trenches of nursing. She came to realize that fairly early on in her medical adventures.

Her first proper job was at a rehabilitation/hospice organization up near Morgan Hill. She commuted from Soledad for the longest time and then got herself a little studio apartment in Salinas to make the drive more bearable.

I always remember her talking about an ALS patient who was very difficult with the nursing staff. She told me the two of them connected over horses, I do believe, and that he wasn’t difficult with her. This poor guy was never going to be able to leave the rehab center and, sure enough, he died on her watch. Robert, his name was. Why the heck would I remember that. Well, she treated the person, and he was a person, not defined by his illness. So, he was Robert.

She was very pragmatic about death. “He couldn’t continue living like that, could he?” she said about Robert. And I remember that same pragmatism when my sister died of cancer. “Well, you wouldn’t want her to continue living like that, would you? She was suffering!”) Her attitude to death was as solid as you would want it to be for someone who was going to encounter it a lot in her short years. I remember her anger, though, when she would have to sit in on suicide-watch patients. She had no time for self-indulgence, as she viewed it. (“Don’t they think of their family?” she said more than once.)

As rents went up, she found herself unable to continue living alone, so she came back home and secured a job at the County Hospital. She loved that job with all its craziness and learned so much there. Her favorite departments were the ER and the medical-surgical department. She liked to be where the action was and where she felt she could make the most difference. From there she started working in the Medical Division of the County Jail and, again, she enjoyed getting her hands dirty and being a part of an important system that others might shy away from. No, not my girl — she shied away from nothing.

As time moved on, she wanted to get away from her parents and the place she grew up in and she moved down to San Luis Obispo County, where she secured a position at the County Hospital there. It was a crazy physical position, but she was still able to do the work and go to school for her prerequisites for the LVN program. Though some of the courses were tedious and unrelated to nursing, she kept at it, never admitting defeat when she fell short, and always coming up for air when life tried to knock her down. She moved back to the area and took her position back at the Jail.

The horrible vehicle crash that broke her back, but not her spirit, added extra burdens to her efforts, since she was still trying to work and go to school simultaneously; but now she was physically injured and unable to do the work she loved. She had to put herself on a little timeout and not work, while she focused on her recovery and the LVN program she had signed up for before the crash.

While people advised her not to do the nursing program until she was fully recovered, she scoffed at that, knowing that she had to push through this time and get it done. “I’m going to be ancient before I’m an RN,” she was heard to say. I reminded her she was only in her 20s and there was still plenty of time, but not in her mind.

And here we are. It’s finals week for the LVN, Class of 2022. She has her cap and gown and white scrubs. Her cap topper reads, suitably, “She believed she could, so she did!” Sounds easy; but not if you know what she went through to get there. Her family, as well.

I (sort of) joked with my dad that I deserved my own cap and gown this time around, and it really has been a marathon of emotions and pride watching my girl push through adversity and come out smiling the other side. Of course, after finals, she still has to apply for and pass her State Exam, but I’m sure, after all she has been through, she will be well up for that.

First, it’s going to be time for big sleeps and relaxation, the odd fishing and camping trip, I’m sure… plus time to reflect on all she has accomplished. I’m acting as if I expect her to pass her final this week — and, yes, I do. She has studied diligently, attended all her classes, passed all her quizzes and here we stand, poised and ready to go to the next stage of her nursing journey. At her graduation on Sep. 8, our family will stand proud in Cupertino, where the ceremony is going to be, and I’m quite sure I shall cry some very proud Mama tears.

“I need to get on and do my RN,” she said with large dark rings around her eyes. “What’s the rush?” I ask her. “Why don’t you work a bit and live a bit more. The RN will still be there when you’re ready to study again. Regardless of the nurse title you have in your pocket, you are going to be the best nurse ever!” And I meant it. All her medical and life experiences have led her to this gateway of a new world, glistening with opportunity.

We give our children wings so that they can fly. I do think she will be able to fly quite high from now on.

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