Arise and Shine
Where Is the Light?
I will never forget that night. Even though I was a trained pediatric nurse, no class or person could have prepared me for what happened.
During my drive to the hospital that evening, I prayed that God would guide me as I worked. I had just hit my year-and-a-half mark, so I was still a relatively new nurse. I prayed for a good patient assignment because, let’s be real, no nurse ever wants to have a hard shift.
As I took the elevator to my unit, I continued to ask God to equip me for the night. The first thing I typically do is head to the nurse’s station, sit down at a computer, and look at the whiteboard that has the nurses’ names next to our assigned patients. When I wrote down the room numbers of my patients, I noticed my name next to a patient who had been on the unit for many months. In most hospitals, nurses can request to be assigned to long-term patients since continuity of care is nice for the nurse and the patient. However, I had never requested this patient and had taken care of him only once before. I looked around the station and noticed there were other nurses on duty who had
requested this patient but had not been assigned to him, but I didn’t say anything.
I jotted down pertinent information from the computer about all my patients onto the piece of paper nurses call our “brain,” which I would carry around during my twelve-hour shift. I went into each of my patients’ rooms, took their vitals, gave them their meds, reviewed the plan of care with them, and then began to do my charting. The last one on my rounds was the long-term patient. I knew he had gone through some really hard things. He was getting better physically but, unbeknownst to me, was still struggling emotionally. I didn’t know him well, so when I was in his room, I didn’t sense that anything was off. I gave him his medications at eight o’clock and left to allow him to get a good night’s sleep. However, around eleven o’clock, his call light beeped. He probably just has a headache and wants some Tylenol.
When I opened the door to his room, an eerie silence greeted me. The lights were off, and as I flipped the switch on, I asked, “Is there anything I can get you? I saw that you called the nurse’s station.” I pulled the curtain back, and my heart leaped out of my chest as I realized that he had attempted to end his life and must have pushed the call button accidentally (or changed his mind) right before he passed out. I yelled for help and checked to make sure he still had a pulse. A co-worker ran in, realized what was going on, and called for more help. We initiated a code blue to get the ICU team to come quickly and continued to do everything we could to save him. By the grace of God, he lived and was okay.
As everything began to calm down, I walked out of the patient’s room and . . . I lost it. I realized that I
was not okay. I could not believe what had just happened. I was hyperventilating. I could hardly get words to come out of my mouth, but the tears would not stop flowing. Another nurse took me into our break room so that I could have some space to try to pull myself together. I could tell I wouldn’t be able to finish the shift. The charge nurse told me that I could go home, and my amazing co-workers took over my patients. I reached for my phone to call my husband and prayed that he would hear it ring. It was midnight, and I knew that driving home alone was not a good idea. When I heard him answer, I could hardly speak to ask him to come get me.
As I began to process what had happened, I couldn’t help but question: Why would this patient want to end his life? Why is there so much darkness in the world? And why was I assigned as his nurse that night, of all nights? Why me, God? What was the purpose in this?
Unfortunately, this near disaster was not an isolated situation. Frontline workers and nurses like me see tragedy daily. Left unchecked, emotional stress can wear us down.
Several months after the episode with the patient who tried to take his own life, I was feeling worn down. As five o’clock hit one night and it was time to get up for work, I could barely get myself out of bed. It had been another rough shift the night before—this time with a different patient—and I had a hard time motivating myself to get up and do it all over again. I managed to brush my teeth, put on my scrubs, and throw my hair up in a bun. I headed downstairs to the kitchen where my husband had dinner on the table, along with my lunch packed and ready to go. I struggled to thank him because I was stuck in a negative mindset and didn’t want to go back to the place where darkness loomed and negativity brewed.
I left the house with my backpack on, lunch in one hand and coffee in the other, anticipating the eight-minute drive to turn into at least fifteen minutes with the good ole Southern California traffic. As I got in my car, I took a deep breath and pressed the button on my steering wheel to call my mom. I often called her on my way to work, especially when I needed to vent.
“Hi, Mom. Whatcha doin’?”
She answered, “Oh, your dad and I just sat down to eat some salmon. Are you on your way to work?”
“Yes, and it is the last place I want to be right now,” I responded.
“I’m sorry, Allyson. How did you sleep, and how was your shift last night?” my mom asked.
“I slept well, but the shift was really rough.”
Always keeping the confidentiality of my patients in mind, I shared that I had taken care of a new patient who seemed to be losing hope. This girl was feeling lonely, lost, and frustrated because so much was now out of her control due to her paralysis.
I said, “On top of all the things I have to do for my other patients, I feel like I need to support this girl because she has no family or friends at her bedside. I’m trying to encourage her, but it’s hard when I’m feeling so discouraged myself.”
My mom responded, “I am so sorry. I’m sure you were exactly what your patient needed.”
“Thanks, Mom. Not only did I have that patient to take care of, but we had admissions come in from the emergency department that were non-accidental traumas. It’s so hard to see life-and-death situations, especially knowing that so many doctors, nurses, and families of these patients don’t know Jesus. I feel like I’m doing my best to keep myself together. But again, last night, I had to step outside to get some fresh air. It all just feels too heavy. And the hospital is short-staffed right now, so nobody has a good attitude.”
“That’s hard. I’ll be praying for your shift that the Lord will strengthen you to do what He has called you to do. Go and be a light tonight.” What? Be a light? Has she been listening? That is the last thing I feel like doing right now. How in the world can there be any light in this situation? How can I be a light to others when I feel overwhelmed by the darkness?
It was too much. I had enough going on in my life. I had so many things to focus on while I was at work, and the negativity was constant. It felt impossible to be a light. However, instead of voicing my thoughts, I just said, “Okay, I’ll try. Thanks, Mom. Love you. Talk to you later.”
What about you? Does it ever feel impossible to be a light when your own life and circumstances are consumed with darkness and hardship? It seems like every day we are exposed to heart-shattering, life-altering, hard-to-process grief and suffering. Whether it is actively happening in our own lives or the lives of people we know, pain digs its way deep down into our hearts and lingers, producing an overwhelming, inescapable feeling of darkness. It’s like walking down a road on a cold night with no streetlights, no front porch lights, and clouds covering the light of the stars. We can’t see what’s in front of us, yet we know we have to keep going.
At this point in my life, the brokenness of the world weighed heavily on my shoulders. I felt like I had to carry everything I was experiencing at work, the weight of my own pain, and the pain of loved ones all on my own. I found it hard to release my burdens to God; I didn’t know how to hand over what I was feeling to Him. People often say, “Give God your burdens,” but all I could think was, How do I do that? How can I stop feeling this way?
I felt that if one more burden was placed upon my shoulders, I would collapse and shatter into a million pieces. I questioned, How do I keep going? How do I push through?
My mind and heart felt so overwhelmed.
Asking these questions scared me. I immediately thought that I wasn’t a strong enough Christian and that people would judge me for questioning. I feared others would look at me and think I was a phony. But these feelings were real. These were true questions that I asked myself and God. I realize now that I allowed myself to believe the lie that I shouldn’t verbalize these thoughts and feelings. I questioned, Why am I choosing to hide? Why are we not talking about these hard questions and how to live life amid the crises that surround us?