Growing up, my mother worked as a nurse in just about every healthcare setting. She worked in every floor of a busy hospital, an orthopedic department, a doctor’s office, a nursing home, before finally becoming an addiction specialist nurse. She has seen it all, from motorcycle accident patients in emergency rooms, to families suffering from the opioid drug crisis.
Looking back, I see all the lessons I learned from growing up with a nurse for a mother.
1. You’re probably fine…
Sometimes I can be a bit of a hypochondriac, but my mother is always quick to be pragmatic about things. When I call worried that a cold could be pneumonia, she usually asks me a few things to calm me down. Do you have a fever? No. Does your chest hurt? No. You’re fine. And 99 percent of the time, you probably are fine.
2. … But when you aren’t, stay calm
My mother is the queen of staying cool. When I was 15, I developed epilepsy, and the first time I had a seizure, she was as calm as if I’d just tripped and bumped my head.
It turned out I had a seizure disorder that was very well controlled with medication, but years later, my mother told me she had been terrified I had a brain tumor. Until they took an MRI, she feared for the worst. You never would have known it from how calm she was in the ER that night. But she knew if she panicked, I would have panicked too. Learning to keep calm has steered me through my share of stressful situations.
3. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best
One of the things medical professionals are cautious about is giving patients and families false hope. I think that may be the reason my mother always prepares for the worst. She isn’t a negative person, but she is the one you can count on to pack ponchos in case of rain, keep an extra snow shovel in the car, and stay prepared for anything. I often think of myself as a cautious optimist, and that is because of her.
4. Speak honestly
As far back as I can remember, my mother kept a very open dialogue with me about health issues. Many people aren’t always 100 percent honest with their doctors, let alone their parents, but my mother set the stage for honesty early on. From periods to birth control to what kinds of medications are non-addictive, no health topic has ever been off limits with my mom. This has helped me grow into the straightforward, honest person I am today.
5. Help others
This is the most important lesson you learn when your mother is a nurse: help people. I’ve seen my mom stop at car accidents in case anyone needs help, give advice to friends with family members struggling with addiction, and field medical questions from everyone she knows. I watched her care for both my grandparents at the end of their lives, acting not just as their daughter, but their caretaker. When you see someone act with caring and compassion your whole life, you internalize it whether you know it or not. My mother taught me to always do your best to help people who need it.
The lessons I learned from my mom aren’t just about how to cure a sore throat (gargle with warm salty water) or how to ease back pain (alternate warm and cold compresses), they are about how to stay calm, plan ahead, and be kind. Whether she knew it or not, she was teaching me lessons that will stay with me for life.