5 crucial life lessons I learned from growing up with a nurse as a mother

Guest post by Daryl Thomas
5 crucial life lessons I learned from having a nurse as a mother

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.

Comments on 5 crucial life lessons I learned from growing up with a nurse as a mother

  1. My nurse mother taught us… shit happens. To the nicest people. Life is not fair, good people will get sick you just have to learn to deal with it.

  2. What a lovely legacy.

    My mom and I talk about how much we miss her mom all the time. She wasn’t a nurse, but she was a lovely, smart, strong woman. (Sounds like she has a lot in common with your mom.) She always knew what to say and when to talk and when to listen.

    We are forever wishing we could call her up and ask her opinion on something. Or that we had written down this story or that memory. I’m very glad you wrote this down and I hope you save it forever.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. I could have written this. My mum never switched specialties, except when she worked at a medi clinic part time when we’re were wee, but everything else is bang on. The hours may have been wonky, but I love having a nurse mum. I think I appreciate it more as someone with a chronic illness. She has been invaluable to me, so many times.

    Nurses, just like mums, are superheroes.

    • The hours definitely are tough! I remember my mother missing lots of holidays, nights, and weekends, but I always knew she was helping people. You’re 100% right – nurses and moms are superheroes.

      • I remember other people being horrified when I said my mum worked christmas, or my birthday or whatever but it didn’t both us. Yes she wasn’t there when we wished she was but we knew from before I could remember that what mum did was really important. Plus then she would come home and tell us she went on a rescue helicopter flight and she winched down the side of a waterfall or landed on a pontoon to rescue someone in trouble, it was awesome having such a badarse mother.

  4. What a nice post! I wish I could say that seeing my parents stop at car accidents to help people (they were both certified EMTs when I was a kid) taught me to be helpful, but their attitudes about it really just made me terrified of car accidents (which isn’t a very useful lesson). It sounds like your mom knew what was up. I’m still learning how to help people!

  5. What I learned growing up with an RN for a mother;
    Are you bleeding? If yes, is there bone showing? Is the blood pulsing? Then put a band-aid on it. We never went to the Dr except for vaccinations or stitches. We learned to self-diagnose from our symptoms and tell mom what drugs we needed, if any. We learned to be calm in the face of blood, vomit, and other forcefully expelled bodily excretions. We learned that sinus headaches weren’t life threatening. And most importantly, we learned that the most knowledgeable and primary person on our medical team was Y-O-U and it was your job to make sure the Drs and nurses knew what was happening. Y-O-U had to know what medicines you’d taken, when the onset of symptoms began, medical history, etc. etc. If you thought the Dr’s treatment wasn’t right, then it was in your own interest to make damn sure.

    • Unless we have a fever over 104 or projectile anything, we didn’t go to the doctor as kids, because “it’s not that bad!”
      Unfortunately, what Mom the Nurse didn’t know is that we had very high pain tolerances. This led to broken bones being treated days after the incident because “y’all weren’t crying all the time!” or mono being just a bad couple of months.
      However, I read her textbooks for fun as a kid, so I have an excellent scope of medical knowledge from the late 60s as well as the latest advances, which is fun. (No, really. It is.)

  6. Love this!! My mom was a nurse and *just* retired this year- she taught me these things & so much more. And yeah- I never really believed in Santa b/c we usually did Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve & I had to go to a babysitter until about 12 (night shifts, man…), but I am so grateful for how my mother taught me to be a caring, compassionate person who knows how to work hard & love even harder.
    Also, she totally pulls off the keeping her cool in tough situations like nobody else I know. Which means that earlier this year, when her husband had to go to the hospital & I could hear how worried she was over the phone, I FREAKED OUT because NOTHING makes my mom nervous in medical emergencies…

  7. The nurses and EMTs in my life have taught me… always have a back up plan. To be honest, many of them have developed career ending back injuries either over time or in a sudden accident, and have had to switch their course midstream. They’ve always handled it with grace and aplomb, because in many instances they knew it was coming down the pipeline, so they retired from active nursing to teach, or work in hospital administration, or whatever. But they always had a Plan B simmering in the back of their minds.

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