Personal Stories of America at Work
How One Working Mom Finds Satisfaction in her Nursing Career
Nurse Janice Alamillo responds to all kinds of emergencies all day
Janice Alamillo, Nurse
Delivering babies in the parking lot
I’ve been an emergency room nurse for twenty-one years. The ER environment can be nutty. We can get four traumas at once. We can deliver babies in the parking lot. We’ve had to put our fingers in holes to stop the bleeding as we push the patient down the hallway until they can get into the operating room. We might do critical, life-saving things in one room and be treating someone for an infected mosquito bite in the next.
I have had a pregnant woman in a car crash, a person having an allergic reaction to a bee sting, and somebody else with a tick in their hair. The variety is unbelievable. It’s very busy, and you have to differentiate between who can wait and who can’t. It’s a really difficult job. Someone comes in for rectal pain, someone else comes in for a toothache, and then somebody else is having a massive heart attack at forty-one. You prioritize all day long.
There are times when I will work six or seven hours and realize that I did not drink water or take a break the entire time. I think every job comes with wear and tear, but at least mine has fed my brain. I feel physically exhausted at the end of a shift and don’t feel like doing much after I get off work. I used to get off work and meet friends for drinks and wake up in the morning and go running, sailing, biking, or skiing. Now I am just wiped out—literally and figuratively. After all, I’m a forty-three-year-old mother of three.
Patients are forever changed
There is a lot of independence in emergency nursing. The majority of the patients who come to the emergency room aren’t life-threatening emergencies. But when there is a true emergency, you go into automatic rescue mode; you don’t wait for things to happen—you actually make them happen.
There is a huge sense of gratification when you make a difference in someone’s life. I had a guy who was thirty-eight years old and was skiing and drinking beers with his buddies for the weekend. He went to work on Monday morning, felt a little dehydrated, and fainted. They called 911, and he came in. Just as I was talking to him, I looked up at the monitor and his heart rate went from sixty to thirty to eleven to zero. I called the code, everybody showed up, his heart rate picked back up, and he started to beat again. He asked, “What happened? What happened?” We ended up giving him a pacemaker. He is probably at home right now with his kids having a happy day.
Patients go home and are forever changed. They will remember that event in great detail for the rest of their lives, and you were a part of that. It gets you up in the morning. This is a specialized field and when you are good at something, you really do enjoy it. And I do, I absolutely love it.
You see heroics everyday
When I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to be a nurse. As a kid, I had a horse and a really tight budget, so I learned how to give my horse all his own medicines. We used a vet only when my horse was really sick. I learned to give him all of his own shots, vaccinations, and did all of his worming. Even when my horse got injured and had an infection, I was able to give the antibiotic injections. I did the same thing for our dogs and other animals.
But as I got older, when my grandmother got sick, I found myself doing the same thing for her—I helped with her caretaking. I realized I liked helping people. My grandmother had emphysema and was on her deathbed. One day, my dad put the whole family in car to “go see Grandma in the hospital,” but it was really to say goodbye. She could barely breathe. When I went in, sat down, and chatted with her, she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “You would make a great nurse. You really make people feel better.” I remember thinking, “What a coincidence, because I want to be a nurse.”
I feel like being a nurse is such a great career choice for women who want to have families, who want a skill set that is applicable anywhere in the world, with flexible scheduling and abundant opportunities. The pay is average, but you can support yourself nicely. I went to college to get my degree and later to grad school for an advanced degree. I am happy that I chose something that would give me the credentials to continue to grow.
When you save a life or impact a patient’s life to such an intense degree with another coworker, or when you even lose a life with another coworker, you share an enduring and inexplicable bond. You see heroics every day. There is nowhere else I can go in my world to replace that. As much as I love everyone in my life, there is no lunch date that I am going to make with someone that is going to substitute for what I experience when I go to work.
I don’t think of my job as stressful. I think of it as busy. I would rather be busy than bored.
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The Working Chronicles
The Working Chronicles captures an intimate look at work in 21st century America through candid interviews with people from all walks of life and all corners of the country.
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