My Why…..

Being a nurse is not for everyone, we often spend more time with our patients and their families than we spend with our own.  We miss holidays, birthdays and anniversaries because we are taking care of our patients and THEIR families.  We work long hours.  We work hours during the day, hours during the night and sometimes, we work hours during the day that become hours during the night and then again hours during the day. Twelve hours often becomes 18 hours and then 24 hours and even 48 hour shifts.  We are yelled at, hit at, spit on, bitten, bled on, peed on, pooped on and vomited on, and yet, we continue to be nurses.  We come back to work after the longest, hardest, most unbearable days.  We continue to come back when we are missing our families and haven’t seen them for days.  We come back after having to tell a family, their parent has died or telling a mother, her child is GOING to die.  We laugh and cry with the families of our patients, we hold their hands as they weep for their dying loved one.  And we sit at our patients bedside and silently shed tears as they take their last breath.  Why do we continue to do such a trying, emotional and many times heart wrenching job?  We each have our own reasons WHY we became a nurse, continue to be a nurse and LOVE being a nurse.  We have our own reason, our own inspiration and our own WHY.  

I have MY WHY.  My inspiration, my motivation, my drive and dedication and my PASSION for being a nurse.  A DIALYSIS nurse.  My DAD!  I had been an ICU nurse for 10 years and knew I was ready to make the move to the area of nursing I really longed to be a part of; DIALYSIS.  My interest in dialysis was for many reasons.  I knew I wanted to continue to care for critically ill patients. I had cared for many patients with varying degrees of kidney failure during my years in the ICU but my real interest was in learning to care for the patient in complete renal failure requiring the lifesaving treatments of dialysis.  My interests in this area stemmed from growing up with a dad who had been a dialysis patient for 9 years and then was one of the very fortunate ones’ to receive a kidney transplant. 

When my dad was a young child, he suffered a severe infection that destroyed a large portion of his kidney function and he was told, someday, he would require dialysis. Then in his early 30’s he contracted a bad Strep infection that knocked out his remaining kidney function making it emergent he started dialysis for survival.  Although he had been warned this would happen someday, nothing quite hits you until you are faced with needing an invasive procedure that will become the center of your life, with everything you do, revolving around that one, lifesaving procedure.  The first time my dad saw a dialysis machine, the tubing, the needles and the blood, he fainted!!  And when he woke, he said “I CAN’T do that!”.  But, not only did he do ‘that’, he fought to be ABLE to do that.  He literally had to FIGHT for his life and be GRANTED dialysis. This time in my dad’s life was in the 1960’s when Healthcare was very different from what we know today. Today, you need a procedure, a surgery, a special doctor, a hospital stay, you have it.  It’s not something most of us think about, the care is there if or when we ever need it.  This is not how healthcare has always been.  In the 1960’s, my dad lived in Seattle, WA and there was a very short supply of dialysis machines and beds to take care of the growing amount of patients who needed this life saving treatment.  The demand for this specialized procedure was grand, for although kidney machines were not new, the first one was built in 1912, they were suited for only short-term use.  So my dad found himself among the more than 100,000 chronic kidney patients in the United States who required dialysis three times a week.   How could so many patients in need of dialysis receive the treatments with so few machines available?  How would it be decided who would get the use of a machine?  And what would happen to the patients that couldn’t be given dialysis? 

Seattle Artificial Kidney Center, later named Northwest Kidney Center opened in Seattle, WA in January of 1962 and was the world’s first dialysis center.  A committee, The Admissions and Policy Committee, later known as “The Death Committee” was formed.  A committee of 7 “ordinary” citizens.  The committee consisted of 6 men and 1 woman.  A lawyer, minister, labor leader, surgeon, banker, state government official and housewife.   The committee was formed to decide who would receive the life sustaining treatments of dialysis.  They were faced with the wrenching ordeal of deciding who would live and who would die.  The committee looked at all aspects of a patient’s life.  It helped if you went to church, had a steady job, small children and a good, loving wife.  It did not help to be the loving wife or a person of color, or unmarried, or too old or too young.  The committee made the decision to narrow the field of dialysis candidates to Washington residents under age 45.  My dad fit!!  And so my dad went before this committee.  He went and fought for his life.  He fought to be deemed “worthy” of dialysis, worthy of living.  The Committee found his life was worthy and he was granted dialysis!!  He received dialysis for more than 9 years before he was given a kidney by his sister.  

I have always found it amazing, shocking and more than a little scary that this is what healthcare used to be.  A person’s life was judged worthy of receiving a treatment that would allow them to live or die.  Of the first 17 people who appeared to the “The Death Committee” in Seattle, 10 were granted dialysis and 7 were SENT HOME TO DIE.  I often pray and thank God my dad was not one of those 7.  When I was 18, my dad died from an accident at work.  He is one of the people in my life who has meant the most, had the biggest influence and helped me become the person I am today. He was an incredible, loving, caring, giving person.  He loved me and my brothers and sister as we were his own kids.   When I think about what it must have been like, what my dad must have felt, to go before the committee and wait, wait to be told if his life was WORTH being saved, wait to hear if his life would be deemed WORTHY of continuing to live.  I know WHY I became a nurse.  I know WHY my passion is with dialysis and WHY I care for my patients with the dedication, desire and LOVE I do.  I know WHY, when I have put in a 60-hour week and my scheduler calls and desperately needs someone to do ‘just one more run’, I do it.   Or, WHY when my phone rings at 3am, it’s the Answering Service, a patient needs treatment emergently, I force myself out of bed and I go.  Or, WHY I spend more Holidays with strangers, my patients, than I do my own children.  I know WHY I do what I do.   I know WHY because if my dad had the strength and courage to face what he had to, to face being told whether his life was WORTHY of living, I know I have the strength to do “just one more run”, I have the strength to get out of bed at 3am for a complete stranger, and I have the strength to spend Holidays without my family.  I know I can give just a little bit more of myself to help someone who is facing and doing something a lot harder, a lot more time consuming and a lot scarier than what I am doing.  I know if my dad, if my PATIENTS can have the strength and courage they carry each day, I too, can do a LITTLE MORE!  And I will continue to give and do just a little more so that someone else’s dad will be there for them and have the same impact and BLESSING on their life that my dad had on mine.

Brooke Shepherd


Fresenius Medical Care North America

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