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13 Secrets of Nurses With Chronic Illness

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May 6-12 is National Nurses Week, a reminder to show some love and appreciation to all the compassionate, hardworking nurses out there who go above and beyond every single day to provide the best possible care for their patients. All nurses are truly superheroes, but we want to give a special shoutout this week to the nurses who battle their own chronic illness.

Chronically ill nurses have the unique perspective of knowing what it’s like to be both a patient and a medical professional. This experience provides them with valuable knowledge and the ability to truly empathize and connect with their patients. They work incredibly hard every day, and do it out of love and the desire to help others who are struggling – often because they know what it’s like to struggle with health issues themselves.

In honor of National Nurses Week, we asked the chronically ill nurses in our Mighty community to share something they wish others knew about what it’s like to be in their position. To all the nurses out there, currently practicing or not, we appreciate you immensely. Everyone else, don’t forget to show your nurses some love, this week and always.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

  1. To my patients: I fight for you because I know the depths of loneliness, fear, pain and desperation caused by something that has taken over your body. I can relate to you because I am living your life, walking in your shoes. I am a great actress because while it’s painful to work, there’s nothing I want more than to make a difference in someone else’s life… and that’s you.” – Kimberley C.
  2. “Quitting nursing due to my illness was the hardest decision I had to make. And being a patient in hospital as a former nurse is difficult for me. I loved my job so much and feel both a sense of embarrassment and guilt that I am a patient now and not able to nurse anymore. I may come across as controlling and over helpful when you care for me. Please do not think I am judging you or how you nurse, I just know what is best for me and my illness and know how to advocate for myself and I miss nursing a lot so coming into hospital brings lots of emotions back for me.” – Amanda J.
  3. I will defend you and give you the benefit of the doubt every time you are in pain. I will never immediately write off your symptoms as anxiety. Anyone [with a chronic illness] knows how awful being doubted feels.” – Danielle R.
  4. I went to nursing school and have cystic fibrosis. What I wish all nurses could know: No amount of education shows you what life is like inside this body. Your patients always know their bodies better than you do. Please listen to them. The textbooks are not always right. Sometimes we appear to be fine when we are in a lot of pain because we have had to learn to endure it, not because we are lying or not hurting. Please stop judging people and assuming they are not in pain. We appreciate you more than you know and our lives are much richer with an illness because of the good nurses that we have had and meet! Thank you for advocating for us and making us feel human when we otherwise do not. We love you. So many of my nurses have become like my family. What I wish other people knew about nurses is that it is the hardest job and such a thankless profession. Many nurses deserve so much more and so much better. Please take time to recognize the ones who do so much for you and your family!!” – Ashley F.
  5. Some days suck and are extremely hard to get through. But seeing the difference you make is worth it. I don’t know your battle exactly but I’m a fellow warrior and I will fight and defend your symptoms because I know what it’s like to be written off.” – Leha H.
  6. I was diagnosed with endometriosis while in nursing school. I feel this has given me an intimate knowledge of chronic pain and the trauma health care providers inflict when pain is minimized and dismissed. My disease prevents me from working in traditional nursing jobs and I’ve never felt like a ‘real nurse.’” – Né N.
  7. I would rather be working and taking care of others than dealing with my own health issues. It’s not a choice, it’s not what I want, and I can’t wait to go back to my nursing career.” – Kate M.
  8. I’m a nursing student and can tell you that it’s tough! You have to write down everything! Long-term memory is your friend! Please be nice to your nurses, even without a chronic illness it’s exhausting, we are overworked and underpaid. Brain fog sucks! Sometimes you don’t even feel like you’re really there! You might be thinking one thing constantly then your mind will be blank and you’ll be lost in the middle of a sentence, you might feel like you’re not even in your own body. It’s hard but we do what we do because we love it and want to help you!” – Tierra N.
  9. “We nurses are human and we are allowed to be sick too. I know that’s not much of a secret, but it felt sometimes like your patients don’t realize that you are human! You are allowed to be sick. Unfortunately of course with chronic illnesses it comes a little more often though. I think the patients maybe felt a little lost or abandoned without their nurse helping their case that day.” – Savannah E.
  10. I somehow made it through nursing school with multiple chronic illnesses. Then I worked for two years as a med surg nurse until my body couldn’t take that anymore. Now I’m a NICU nurse and my body continues to rebel but I refuse to give up because my knowledge base and personal experience can help others. It’s my purpose in life.” – Rachel M.
  11. I’m a nurse aide. I went to nursing school. I had to stop when my symptoms got worse. Nurses and CNAs with chronic illnesses [often] get emotionally involved because we understand what the patient is dealing with. Way more than patients know. Don’t assume we can’t possibly understand what you are going through because a large majority of nurses and CNAs understand how difficult it is to get through the day and we want to help you. I wish all doctors and nurses had to go through a simulated illness through technology that mimics different illnesses and pain levels (empathy training) to better understand and treat people accordingly. It would help everyone who suffers from chronic illness, especially if it’s invisible.” – Tea M.
  12. I worked as long as I could as an oncology RN. When I was at work, I didn’t hurt as much. I always put my patients first. I brushed my bright red face off as a menopausal hot flash and got a good laugh. I worked like this for for the last 15 years of my 35-year career. But when the lymphedema and RSD in my leg became overwhelming, it was harder to manage my pain. I really started to struggle because of it. As a chemotherapy nurse, there’s no room for mistakes. None at all! I was afraid the pain would start to interfere with my concentration. Not an option. I was fortunate I was old enough to qualify for retirement. Sigh. Retiring was the last I wanted to do. I loved my job. My [health] struggles helped me understand my patient’s pain. I often heard patients tell me I was the first nurse to really get their pain under control. More than once, knowing pain on a very personal basis and having had multiple surgeries was very helpful in calming and teaching patients what to expect and how to cope with the pain.” – Colleen S.
  13. We put our needs second to yours. And that, is love.” – Leah M.
Originally published: May 9, 2018
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