Jenna took a deep breath as the elevator dinged past each floor. She had learned in school that deep breathing increased mindfulness, decreased pain, and reduced anxiety.
"It's the best and fastest way to communicate to your body," her favourite instructor had once told the class. "You don't need drugs or even oxygen tubing, you're suppressing the sympathetic nervous system response using just your conscious mind. Deep breathing is you talking to your body: Don't freak out, body. I am hearing your messages of pain and fear, but we are getting oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide - things aren't that bad. There may be injury, and there may be unknown threats, but if I can control my breathing, I am still in control."
Jenna breathed through the anxiety that tightened her chest, gradually feeling her heart rate slow and her muscles relax. But her mind was still racing with questions and scenarios. How bad can it be? Death is completely natural - as natural as birth. Everyone is going to die someday. You wrote that health directive in class, you are comfortable with your own mortality. Images of wide-eyed, grey-faced people moaning in pain and gasping for breath flooded her mind, making her shudder.
The elevator stopped and the doors rolled open with a ping. Her heart began to pick up speed again and she forced herself to ignore it as she stepped through the doors. She was immediately surprised by the beauty that greeted her. A large, colourful fish tank stood just to the right - the peaceful flow of the fish and gentle trickling sound instantly made her feel calm. The floors and walls did not sport the gaudy pastel colours that the rest of the hospital bore, but rich and soothing browns, greens and blues.
The typically cool, industrial fluorescent hospital lighting had been replaced with a soothing warm glow. And though the word "quiet" was considered notoriously unlucky in the nursing world, she struggled for an alternative.
"You must be Ms. Vaughn," a voice said from behind.
Jenna turned to see a smiling face with a fuzzy grey beard. He wore forest green scrubs and a navy stethoscope hung around his neck. Something about him reminded her of Santa Claus, making her smile.
"Welcome to the 9th floor, Jenna. My name is Richard, I am one of the nurses here. Shall I give you a tour?"
Taking her to the staff room, Richard showed her a small but clean cubby for her belongings, and admired the violet stethoscope her mother had bought for her first year of nursing school.
"A fine instrument," he remarked.
Jenna blushed. "I still feel like I don't know how to use it," she admitted. "I know what to listen for, but I'm never sure if the sounds are normal or not."
Richard put a hand on her shoulder. "Like all worthy skills, auscultation comes with practice, and lots of it. Nobody expects a baby to learn how to run before she can walk."
"My instructors did," Jenna said as they toured the halls.
Richard showed her the common room and kitchenette first, their furniture a little worn, but clean and well-kept. Next was the nursing desk, where he introduced her to three nurses whose names she forgot instantly. The medication room and supply rooms were cool, and stuffed full of supplies, but there was organization and she was happy to recognize much of the equipment from the practical classes she had endured. It seemed so different now that she would be using them on a human and not just a plastic mannikin. Finally he showed her an empty patient room, explaining how the oxygen, suction, lights, and bed functions worked.
"I don't want to overwhelm you," he said. "We will introduce you to more complex machines such as infusion pumps and air mattresses as they come up in your practice. Do you have any questions so far?"
Jenna looked around the room, fairly confident she would be able to operate most of the equipment. The bed sat empty in the middle of the room, green and white linens crisp and still, reminding her that what she did fear was seeing a patient who was dying or dead. Despite how caring and understanding Richard seemed, she could not tell him that. What kind of palliative nurse was afraid of death?
"Why don't you come to the nursing station and take a look at some of our patient profiles? We'll show you how the charts are set up and what will be expected of you as one of the nurses here."
Jenna nodded, happy to delay her first encounter with death as long as possible. Still, she thought, other than the dying people, this seemed like a very nice place to work.