As a kid, we are asked over and over what we want to be when we grow up. Normally the responses of fireman, astronaut, NFL player, etc. come from children who look at these adults doing incredible, big things, and want to do that too one day. Sarah made the decision when she was 10 years old to be a nurse. But her reasons are a little bit different. She was willing to share her story in the hopes that it will encourage and empower another person through difficult times to keep going in order to live out their dreams.
Looking back now, Sarah’s journey to becoming a nurse actually started in November of 2003 at her best friends 10th birthday party. Roasting hotdogs and making smores around a campfire, not a care in the world. Sarah was sitting on her knees in a plastic lawn chair, roasting a marshmallow when the legs of the chair gave way and sent her into the fire. Luckily, she was quickly pulled from the fire and hot coals by her friend’s uncle. But she recalls feeling shocked, just looking at her hands and being driven really fast to a nearby hospital. At the hospital, she remembers being stuck again and again for IV placement. People she didn’t know standing around her while she is in pain and during vulnerable moments. Being asked questions that no 10 year old would know about things like insurance. Feeling embarrassed and exposed. Then being transferred in an ambulance to the burn center at Chapel Hill where she stayed for 11 days. Listening to Sarah share her experiences while being treated in the burn center was difficult. She said the pain of nurses debriding her burns was the worst pain she has ever experienced. Because of the need for IV access, she required a central line. She received a lot of medications. But what stands out the most was the nurses.
Through her experiences, she had been personally impacted by nurses. Some good, some not so good. As a patient, she loved the nurses who sat with her and talked to her about her. Not just about her injuries and treatment. Sarah decided early on that not only was she going to be a nurse, but she was going to be a good one. The nurses who stood out were the ones who took the time to get to know her, helped her with her schoolwork, who cared for her emotionally while also caring for her medical needs. “The nurses who really knew me were more gentle with me.'” She still keeps in contact with some of the nurses who took care of her as well as people she met in the hospital.
Recovery was challenging. Soon after everything happened, Sarah had to travel back and forth to her appointments in Chapel Hill. It interfered with time at school, took her away from being a normal kid. She had to wear pressure garments on her hands, missed school, and received unwanted attention. After being a patient in the hospital, going back to school was hard. “Teachers and students doted on me, and I didn’t really like that” Sarah was glad to be able to play basketball with her team that season because it helped her to feel a bit more normal. “I didn’t want people to look at me and think, ‘oh the poor girl that got burned'”
Part of Sarah’s recovery included going to camp. It is called Camp Celebrate where all the campers are burn victims with different stories, bringing them together in this way. A place where they were surrounded by other kids who had experienced similar things and could relate in a deeper way. Because this camp meant a lot to her, she continues now to be a counselor at the camp one weekend in the summer. So now she gives back by being a positive role model for children going through the unimaginable, just like she did. She knows what these kids have experienced and can understand them in a way we never could. Sarah told me about a little girl who opened up to her after seeing her scars. Her scars showed this little girl that she understood.
Sarah has scarring on both of her hands, on her arms, and on her stomach. “There are so many people I know who can’t escape it. I was lucky that the scars are not on my face and arms to where they stand out”. Our culture and media emphasize the need to be perfect. Sarah explained that there were and still are hard times when it comes to her scars. She would love to not have her scars, but they remind her of why she is doing what she is doing. They are a reminder of what she has been through and how it has made her who she is. Because she personally has scars from a traumatic experience, she can understand and relate to people who also have physical reminders of hard times. “If they want to talk to me about it, I am there to listen. But I try not to dote on it, because I didn’t like that” Accepting the scars isn’t going to happen overnight, but they helped make her who she is. Every good and bad thing becomes part of our story. “I try to embrace mine, and I hope other people will embrace theirs too”
Multiple times throughout our conversation, Sarah mentioned her mother. Her mom rode in the ambulance with her, she drove her back and forth to appointments. She cared for her at home. She encouraged and supported her though nursing school. Sarah and her mom have a bond like no other. Her mom was there for her through it all, and it made all the difference. We never know how much of an impact just showing up for people will have.
Sarah started the journey of becoming a nurse by getting her CNA in high school. Then it was time to start nursing school. After a few challenging years, she transferred to a school where she felt she ultimately belonged. “I finally ended up at a school where I excelled and felt encouraged” Nursing school is a nightmare. Full of long nights studying, seemingly impossible tests, and never ending clinical days. But this year, Sarah graduated from Catawba College. The licensure exam is the next step in her nursing journey before she is able to start her first job as a Registered Nurse. This isn’t all for her though. She already has plans of furthering her education and becoming a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner where she will impact and encourage countless children. She wants to continue to grow and learn, and even teach students one day so that they can also accomplish their own dreams.
“In nursing school, it would have been so easy to throw my hands up and say why am I putting myself through this” She kept going because of her support system, and knowing that she was meant to help other people. Her drive to continue and finish nursing school came from her experiences as a patient. She knew what a difference a good nurse could make and her goal is to be that for others. “It encouraged me to know that I could impact other people the way I was impacted”. Sarah has known for a long time that this is what she was supposed to do, and she has done it
“Embrace the struggles.” Nothing since her accident has been easy. Life in general has so many negative times and it would be easy to just give up on dreams. No matter how bad things seem, Sarah is motivated to embrace the struggles and just go with it.
We all have stories in our lives that have shaped us into who we are. I am so thankful for Sarah and the encouragement she provided through sharing her story.