Dr. Michael and Nurse Caren remove an external drain as Ismail lays on his bed in the ICU.
“What I can say is that being a nurse, it’s a calling. It’s not just a profession; it’s a calling from God to take care of the sick,” said Nurse Caren.
In 2012, Caren fulfilled her dreams at the age of 22 when she became a nurse. Two years later, she began working at CURE Uganda. She has spent the majority of her time at CURE treating the critically ill in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
“The reason I became a nurse is that I always wished to be one since childhood, and ’cause I would visit hospitals, especially when I had a relative who was sick,” said Caren as she remembered. She continued,
Whenever I was in the hospital, I would admire those nurses. ‘I wish to be one when I grow up. I really want to take care of the sick.’ I thank God my dream came to pass.
I had an Uncle (Robert) who was sick, you know. We went to visit and relatives were fearing, but for me, as young as I was (seven or eight years old), I was not fearing. Doctors were like, ‘This girl looks so bold.’ And then I was like, ‘Yeah, I wish to be a nurse one day. Either a nurse or doctor, But (I would) really love to be a nurse.’
A decade after visiting her Uncle Robert, Caren went to school to become a nurse. After graduation, she worked with an NGO (non-governmental organization) in Kenya that was focused on community development. With elections looming, the NGO left Kenya in fear of war. A few months later, Caren began work at a hospital doing both nursing and assisting a doctor who was training nurses. The hospital fell on hard times and stopped paying Caren. After a couple months of no pay, she had to leave and search for a new opportunity. This brought her to Eastern Uganda where she began working at St. Martins Hospital in Mbale until August 2014 when she left to join CURE.
From the time I was in school, actually, until the time I finished, I had friends who were in CURE. When I had friends in CURE, of course, they would talk about CURE. I would hear how strict it is; they talked about so many things. I kept on fearing. I feared. They kept telling me, ‘They are advertising; you should apply.’ I refused. I refused. I kept on refusing.
When the time came, I prayed to God, ‘I need a job.’ That was the time again that CURE was advertising. I was like, ‘God, CURE has advertised, but go in front of me before I even send in my application. I have heard a lot about CURE, but I think by your help I will manage.’
Fortunately, they took me and I was happy. I couldn’t imagine that a company like CURE would take me because I used to even fear it from the outside. I just used to fear it. But when they took me up, I was so happy. I was so privileged that CURE would take me.
My first time at CURE…I was sent to the ICU. I used to come in early to witness how nurses would hand over and receive reports. So, I came in early and found a nurse doing his work. Suddenly, the patient he was working on had a respiratory arrest. So, when the patient went into respiratory arrest, I didn’t know what to do. I was very new, and, you know, the nurse starts sending me to get the emergency cart, and this and this. And I’m like, ‘Sir, I don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t even know where those things are.’
So he’s like, ‘Okay call ward! This number, call for help! Let the nurses and MOs come in.’ I call ward and the team comes to help. I had to stand aside and watch. To me, it was terrifying. I was shocked. It was this small baby, and they were doing CPR. They were almost bursting this child’s chest. They were doing a lot of stuff; it made me like so nervous, so sick. ‘God, will I manage doing this? Will I be able to recognize a patient like this? I asked myself a lot of questions. But after they did what they could, the child came back. So, I went to him, and I’m like, ‘How could you do that?’ Then he was like, ‘Darling, you keep learning. You keep learning. Patients will keep coming in. Patients will get challenges, but you will have to manage. You’re going to read a lot. You are going to be oriented on so many things, and you keep on learning.’
As days went on, we kept being oriented in different areas: class, ward, lecture. I started gaining some knowledge and courage…. On top of that, I kept practicing, practicing, practicing. Literally, at the end of it, I had confidence in my patients. Every patient I came across, I didn’t have that fear, but I would take up the patient, and I would always talk to a colleague who was a senior to me. ‘I have this patient, but I need help. Do you mind helping me?’
I love ICU most. The reason being my time in ICU, I have learned a lot. Every time in ICU, I worked on very difficult patients―very ill patients. It made me get use to working with very ill patients. Every time I’m working with an ill patient, my brain is thinking further ahead on what to do. I manipulate a lot of things around me. I start thinking ahead on what to do with this patient…. Every time there is an emergency, I love the way the team comes in, and as a team we have to make things right. I just enjoy working in ICU, in that state all the time, you are thinking what to do.
The continuing education and relationships that Caren describes have been vital to her development as a nurse, but another element has been just as important.
I have never had a hospital that had a church inside. People gather before they start working on patients and pray. It was my first time. I was so surprised and thought, ‘Wow, I think I’m in the right place.’ Faith with work: I think it’s been a great thing, especially in this institution. Without faith, really, I personally can’t make it. But with that I’m encouraged everyday; I’m praying for my patients.
When Caren thinks back to herself as a seven-year-old, she believes the seven-year-old version of herself would be very proud of the things she has accomplished. Looking into the future, Caren hopes to better serve the critically ill.
I only hope for one thing: I hope to go back to school. Every day I wish to go back to school. I can narrow down to a Bachelor’s in Critical Care because I love taking care of very sick children.
I would advise young people who want to be nurses: don’t go for nursing because you want to accomplish your professional career, or because you want to impress your parents, or because you are going to do nursing because you passed the nursing subjects. But I would tell them, ‘Go back into your heart. Look at yourself. How do you feel about someone who is sick? How do you feel for them?’ If you have that feeling of sympathy, empathy in you, and all the time you feel like you can help, then it’s good to be a nurse because nurses are helpers.
Take care of the sick. Take care of the needy. Don’t just go for it to earn money to be called working class. Go for it because you have something to accomplish in the kingdom of God. You have to take care of the sick. You have to take care of the needy.