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Before My Shift, I Decide Who to Be

Content courtesy of Verizon.

There’s a quiet, magical buzz just outside the hospital. In the mornings, before the sun rises, I can feel it. Some days it’s almost friendly. Other times it’s ominous. Or just still.

That stillness is so strange, knowing that just inside those doors is a different world, churning in chaos, the worst and best moments of human lives happening within. But out here, the world sounds normal.

Brooke Bettis Twomey, RN

The birds chirp each morning as they always have regardless of the date, the current news, the state of the world. They don’t know they sing just outside of a hospital. But I’ve started to wonder if they might know more than me.

They know that whatever happens today, they will be here tomorrow — that today doesn’t matter.

If I could will myself to fully believe that, my life might be a little easier. But I can’t. I have a purpose today. So, I go on in, sighing at the chirping birds and imagining the day ahead.

Before my shift starts, I always pick three things to “be” that day. I often choose to be whatever I wasn’t the day before. “Efficient, thoughtful, calm,” I repeat over and over again in my head with each step as I walk in.

“Warm, a good listener, connected.” Step, step, step.

“Sharp, alert, fast.” Step, step, step. Whatever I need to be.

Some days, the most I could muster is, “Awake, not dumb, not late.” It is a command as much as it is a prayer.

I tried not to pray for an easy day. On the painful, endless days at least I learned something. I could stomach it better knowing that I would never repeat some moments ever again, because now I know better.

“You never want to be the nurse with the white cloud,” my husband says.

As hard as it is, it’s a blessing to be the nurse with the dark cloud. Because when things get scary, that nurse has seen it all. That’s the nurse you want by your bed. The battle-worn. The gut-listening. Step, step, step.

And in the doors I glide, expecting the usual greeting. A smile for my coworkers, an exaggerated head nod because my mask is covering my smile. A flicker of bravery on each of their faces as I pass the receptionist, the nurse assistant, the social worker. Always scanning and over-interpreting their facial expressions. Did something happen yesterday? Was that patient ok? Do we have a new one coming in that I haven’t heard about yet?

But we don’t ask — not first thing in the morning. We have an unspoken rule to allow ourselves a moment to settle in, to breathe, to mentally prepare. I’m grateful for it. I take a breath and relax my shoulders before I turn on the lights at the nurses’ station.

I have a purpose today.

“Patient, smart, strong.” Flick.




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By | 2021-08-20T09:58:07-04:00 August 25th, 2021|Categories: Nurses Stories, Sponsored Content|5 Comments
Brooke Bettis Twomey, BSN, RN, CPHON
Brooke Bettis Twomey, BSN, RN, CPHON, is on staff at the St. Luke’s Children’s Cancer Institute in Boise, Idaho.


  1. Avatar
    S. Williams, RN BSN August 29, 2021 at 11:23 am - Reply

    So well written! Before reading your story, I too was “deciding who will I be today” at work! I meditate, repeat mantras and pray before starting my shift. Many times I sit in my car or sometimes as I’m walking into the hospital from the parking lot, I’m talking (no one can see my lips … the mask hides me) to myself deciding “who I will be and how I will face the challenges.

    I’ve been in nursing for 31 years and continue to experience daily “ah-ha” moments. The past almost two years have been exacerbating and emotionally draining, to say the least, and leadership has not always been very supportive. So after much deliberation, talk therapy, talks with God, and meditation, I chose to shield myself with armor layered with an abundance of mental and emotional strength to get me through, and it works after repeating it over and over again!

    Thank you for sharing this. You’re not the only one.

  2. Avatar
    Donna E Dwyer August 29, 2021 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    What a lovely thing you are doing. I love you for it. I remember doing something similar on my walk to the Buffalo General Hospital (NY) each morning to work in their ICU. That was in 1973 and 1974. I would gear up for the day on that walk. Get my mind sharp and ready, calmly review the steps needed in my assessments and tasks. I would fully dedicate myself to do my best that day. Being a nurse is really special but demanding more than others realize. God is blessing you and all nurses. Donna Dwyer, Valley Center, CA

  3. Avatar
    Ellen Goodman August 30, 2021 at 12:19 am - Reply


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    Karen Hernan August 30, 2021 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Beautifully written

  5. Avatar
    Christine Wolf September 9, 2021 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    What a noble aspiration to be so mindful and thoughtful regarding who and what you are to a job that throws us the unexpected. I admire your efforts! Keep up the good work, These are the things we can control!

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