Person of the Week
Jennifer Asher Covey
I’m working in adult day care. I love it. I like helping people who really need help.
1. What led you to the mission of being a nurse?
I started by going into pre-med. I decided when I was doing my pre-med studies that I should work in a hospital to see if it was something that I really wanted to invest in with all that time in money. I went and worked in a hospital. I saw the doctors and most of them didn’t seem very happy. They didn’t retire. They worked until they died. I thought, “I don’t think I want to be a doctor.”
Then I got a job as a nurse assistant in the hospital. During that time I had a daughter and started working in home health care. It wasn’t enough money to make ends meet. So I went to nursing school. I went to nursing school because I needed to make more money to provide for my family and found it was something that I did well. I was pursuing a higher level in something that I was good at.
I’m now working at an adult day care. I love it. I always hung out with older people when I was a kid. There weren’t any kids in my neighborhood. I would make the rounds in the neighborhood and instead of visiting kids, I would visit the elderly people. There was Miss Englehart down the street. There were Ruth and Leo Bennett. I just hung out with them.
I loved my grandmother Meemah. I hung out with her and her friends. I was never a kid that didn’t like being around older people. I liked being with kids and played with kids and I did kids’ stuff. But I always hung out with older, elderly people. So I guess that’s the way it translated into my career now.
2. What does this mission mean to you?
First of all, I can help provide for my family. But being a nurse also means that I am useful. I play my part in being a useful member of society. I like helping people who really need help. I remember at one time I told people that I wanted to go into pediatric medicine. Everyone said, “Well, why do you want to do that? That is so depressing.”
If you look at the basics of any kind of practice of medicine or nursing, it’s going to be depressing because you are dealing with sick people. Most of the time you are dealing with people who are dying — especially if you are in any type of long term care – geriatrics, Alzheimer’s, cancer care. The bulk of the medical practice is dealing with death. So if you look at it that way, it could all be depressing.
But I like to look at it as, you are bringing joy to someone. You are making someone’s life better in their process whether it is making them feel better physically or just totally taking their mind off of what they are going through.
3. What was your best day being a nurse?
My very best day is also my very worst day. It makes me cry. I had a patient, a man, who I took care of for about two years. He had ALS. This man and his wife both were nurses. (Note: ALS is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost and the person dies.)
When you are in somebody’s home eight to twelve hours a day, about three days a week, you get very close with someone. You are helping with all aspects of their life. I was helping him eat. I was helping him bath. I was helping him get dressed. I was helping him breathe. He was on a ventilator. I had to suction out his trache several times a day. (Note: A tracheotomy is a procedure which consists of making an incision in the neck and opening a direct airway to the trachea or windpipe and inserting a tube to enable a person to breathe.)
He was a really, really, really nice man. He had a trache because he and his wife decided that since the ALS was advancing, neither of them were ready for him to die. They had the trache knowing that at some point he would come off of the ventilator and die.
He had been losing his functions. He had set a benchmark for dying like, “Once I can’t do this, that’s when I know I need to come off of the ventilator.”
So he had actually passed all those benchmarks and made new ones and was struggling really hard with doing a terminal vent wean when they would take him off the ventilator and he would die because he couldn’t breathe any longer.
He had been struggling because he was a religious man and taking himself off the ventilator was tantamount to suicide. In his Christian religion, suicide was something that you don’t do. He had really been struggling with that.
He had been extending his markers for dying and when he was going to be doing the terminal vent wean. Finally he and his wife decided they wanted to do the vent wean before Thanksgiving and Christmas. They wanted me to be there on his last day before his terminal vent wean. There were two other nurses, but he chose me to be there on his last day.
Every day that I had gone over there, when I was leaving I would say, “OK. I’m leaving. I’ll be back on such and such a day.” On this day and the last time I was leaving, I knew that after I left there would be doing the vent wean. As I was leaving the last time I turned to him and said, “OK. I’ll be back.” But then I thought, “I’ll be back… I’ll be back… never. This is my last day. This is my last day.” I started crying.
So it was my best day because of all the nursing I had done with him and because he wanted me to be there on his last day. I was honored. He wanted me there. At the same time it was super hard to say, “Goodbye.”
4. What was your worst day being a nurse?
(This question is answered in the answer to the question, “What was your best day”.)
5. How did you survive your worst day?
That’s one thing about being a nurse. It can be very hard. Sometimes it is gross and disgusting, but it is also extremely rewarding in ways that you don’t even expect it to be.
6. What advice do you have for someone who might want to go into nursing?
I would tell them just to do it. I waited a long time to go to nursing school. I kept coming up with obstacles and they would stop me. Then weirdly enough an LPN said to me, “You should go to nursing school.” I said, “No I don’t want to do that. I’m fine in what I want to do.” But in a couple of days I said, “You know. I really should go to nursing school.” (Note: LPN is Licensed Practical Nurse.)
I just went and did it. I got my nursing degree. It was just one of those things. Do it. Jump in. Ignore all the crazy people. There can be some crazy people in nursing school. Ignore or don’t associate with the more negative people. Unfortunately there are those kinds of people in any line of work you do including nursing.
It can be really tough because they say, Nurses eat their young.” It’s not a soft line of work but if you just ignore all that other stuff and focus on what you are really there for — which is to care for people — then all that other stuff fades into the background and it doesn’t matter any more. The only thing that matters is that you are there to help others.
Focus on your patient. Do care. Make people more comfortable. Bring joy to them.