Some days as a nurse are harder than others. Today was not a particularly hard day but the desperation of my patients just seemed unbearable for some reason. The sadness that I had witness in my workday seemed to permeate my body and I was trying desperately to hold in the tears in until after my workday. So, after my last patient visit, I pulled into an empty parking lot and had a cry.
As I was having a solid weep, a police car pulled in several rows down from me. Now, in the poverty-stricken areas that I work there is usually a strong police presence so I wasn't surprised to see him-- however, I was sitting in the parking lot of an abandoned and empty grocery store and it did seem like an unexpected place for another person to park. So I watched him a bit out of the corner of my eye, curious to see why he was here.
I could see that he appeared to be talking on a phone so I just continued on with my cry for a moment, watching the clock carefully and gathering myself together before I picked up my kids from their school. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bit of white flash and I looked over- the white flash was a Kleenex that the burly police officer was using to wipe his tears as he wept into his phone.
He noticed me watching and seemed embarrassed. Then, he seemed to take in the stethoscope around my neck and my own Kleenex in my hand and nodded, like he had put together all of the clues and knew why I was here. He raised his chin in hello.
I kept imagining the call he was making or what he had just seen (I imagined a thousand different horrible things in just a moment's time-- we nurses have seen many horrors and our imaginations are sickeningly active but I know in my heart that police officers have seen far worse) and I cringed.
I raised my Kleenex in silent salute and appreciation. He paused, met my eyes and raised his tissue back to me.
A Kleenex salute. A shredded, pulpy, messy salute-- perfectly appropriate after the broken, messy things that we had seen that day.
Then he went back to his call and I drove off in the direction of my home, wondering what that poor man had seen today or even what he had seen in his entire career. I wondered how he copes with the terrible things that he sees everyday. Does he often pull over to cry like I do at the end of a shift?
There is no shame in crying, even if society tells us that it makes us weak. Some days we must purge the pain to continue to march forward and warrior on.
There are so many of us out there pounding the pavement every day trying to make the world a better place- nurses, police officers, social workers, firefighters, teachers and so many others. Our jobs bring us great joy and also great heartache. Many, like me, lie awake at night as the demons of the day race through our minds. We have seen hell on Earth over and over again, but we've also seen the great beauty of this life. We are grateful for our professions, hardships or not. I am so proud to work alongside all of you.
So, for all of you in helping professions of all kinds- I raise my soggy Kleenex in salute to you. May you live to fight another day and not be ashamed to purge the pain when you have to, in whatever way works for you. You are amazing.
This post was originally seen on The Zen RN- a place for people to come together.